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Valero Oil Refinery came close to ‘catastrophic incident’

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EXCLUSIVE REPORT

 

A POTENTIALLY ‘catastrophic incident’ took place at Valero’s Pembroke Oil Refinery last year involving leaking gas and an ignition source, the Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal.

​​This newspaper has been contacted by a number of workers at the site who have told us that it is only ​’pure luck’ which prevented leaking gases from​ being blown into an ignition source, believed to be a furnace, which could have led to another lethal incident at the plant.
Valero have confirmed that they are working with statutory authorities who are investigating the event, which occurred ​on November 3​0​ last year. It involved the Alkylate Iso-Stripper, which creates Alkylate – a premium component of petrol that has exceptional anti-knock properties and is clean burning. The Iso-Stripper is a high risk area of refining, and uses either sulphuric acid or hydrofluoric acid as a catalyst for its chemical reactions.
The oil refinery’s management told The Herald that it is working with ‘continued co-operation’ with regulators, and highlighted in a statement that ‘no personnel were injured’ and that ‘there was no impact on the community’​.​
Valero, which says it is one of the leading employers in south Wales, added that they are unable to comment further during the period of investigation.
HSE INVESTIGATES
A Health & Safety Executive spokesperson told The Herald in a prepared statement: “We are aware of an incident at the Valero Energy Limited Pembroke Refinery in November 2017 which was reported to the Health and Safety Executive under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013).
“We can confirm that the incident took place on the Alkylate Iso-Stripper, and is being investigated.
“No enforcement action has been taken, though the investigation remains ongoing.”
PUSHING THE PLANT HARDER
Our source​s​ working at the refinery told The Pembrokeshire Herald, on condition of anonymity, that the incident last year was due to the refinery being pushed harder than before. This, combined with the ageing infrastructure at the site, lead to the close call.
He told us: “They have increased output which puts more strain on the equipment.​”
Another employee at the site, who also did not wish to be named, confirmed this. He said that since the refinery was bought from Chevron, it is being stretched and running ​20-30% harder than before.
This, combined with a lack of maintenance, is making it an ‘accident waiting to happen’, he added.
RECENT LEAK OF GAS
Valero confirmed that last month’s activation of emergency sirens was in response to another leak of gas at the plant. But it is not currently known from which part of the refinery.
Readers contacted The Pembrokeshire Herald by telephone​ and social media on the morning of March 29 concerned after hearing a warning sound, which started at exactly 8.01am.
On contacting the refinery the Herald was initially told by a security worker: “We have no information at the moment, we are not sure if it’s a test or not.”
Looking to clarify his answer, our reporter asked: “So you are not sure if it’s a test or a real emergency?”
The Herald was told: “That’s right”
It is understood that there was confusion due to previous false alarms.
Later this newspaper received a statement from Valero spokesperson and Refinery Public Affairs Manager, Stephen Thornton, who said: “At 8:00 am on 29th March 2018, the alarm sounded on site due to identification of a minor gas leak.
“Operations responded promptly to isolate and de-pressure the line to stop the leak.”
SAFETY A ‘GUIDING PRINCIPLE’
In a statement prepared by Valero for The Pembrokeshire Herald, the company said: “Safety is the guiding principle for all that we do at Pembroke Refinery, and Valero takes strong exception to any suggestions otherwise. As one of Europe’s largest and most complex refineries, our highly skilled workforce at Pembroke Refinery operates according to comprehensive and rigorous management systems and standards of safety.
Valero does not comment on operational activities at Pembroke Refinery, however all our activities are conducted within approved regulatory permit limits. All refinery work is undertaken according to stringent regulatory, industry and company standards that ensure the continued effective integrity of the plant, regardless of working capacity. Our advanced and sophisticated operational, inspection and maintenance procedures at the refinery are underpinned by a safety culture fostered across all our personnel, focused on recognising and eliminating hazards before they occur.
“In addition to our own focus on safety, Valero also actively works alongside public bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive, emergency services, the local authority and other agencies to manage risk. This includes Valero’s continued cooperation with regulators regarding an ongoing investigation into an event that occurred in November 2017. No personnel were injured during this incident and there were no impacts on the community, however we are unable to comment further during this investigation.
“Anyone making enquiries regarding Valero’s operations, including our site alarm system, should ask to speak to a member of Valero’s Policy, Government & Public Affairs Department.
“All calls received at the refinery are dealt with by our dedicated security team who follow protocol of not confirming refinery operational details, but will pass your details on if requested.​”​

Akylation unit: The location in the refinery where ‘dangerous incident’ occurred

OIL REFINING – A HAZARDOUS ENTERPRISE

Refinery fire: 2011 accident tragically claimed four lives

It is not the first time that Valero have had the safety of their workplace questioned, nor the first time an incident has affected the Pembroke refinery.
Valero were fined £400,000 at Swansea Crown Court after an incident involving a walkway collapsing and an employee left hanging from ropes at their refinery in Pembroke. It was found that Valero, the American oil company which purchased the Pembroke site in a £447m deal in March 2011, failed to follow procedure and carry out a comprehensive risk assessment on the access tower of which the gangway collapsed seriously injuring a worker.
It was said in court that the maintenance contractor of Valero had their suggestions ignored over the potential risks of the access tower, as they raised the point that there was a ‘potential fatal accident waiting to happen.’ Valero were also seen to give inadequate training and instructions to employees, regarding the safe operation of the tower and gangway.
The incident took place on March 5 2012, as David Thomas, an operator at the refinery, was making his way towards an unloading oil tanker via the gangway of the access tower. The walkway suddenly collapsed and he was dropped 3.5 metres. Mr Thomas, 55, was left swinging from wire rope that had wrapped round his legs, but, as a keen rock climber, was able to distribute the weight from his legs by gripping a cross beam. Despite this, he suffered a dislocated knee as well as lacerations and fractures. Mr Thomas was released from hospital after 17 days, but soon developed arthritis, and ultimately didn’t return to work.
It was deemed that three other related incidents at the refinery previous to the gangway accident, in August 2010, February 2011 and September 2011, were poorly investigated and that a proper checklist assessment was not carried out.
At the time of the infamous explosion in June 2011, which resulted in four fatalities, the refinery was still operated by Chevron, yet the deal to sell the refinery to Valero had already been organised. In November 2015, the Crown Prosecution Service ultimately decided against pressing charges of corporate manslaughter.

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Pembroke Dock: Former nurse jailed for 18 months

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A FORMER nurse from Pembroke Dock who lied to an inquest about the death of a vulnerable patient has been jailed for 18 months.

Lorraine Stevens, aged 62, told the hearing she had prepared a risk assessment on John Shelley, a mentally ill man prone to drinking harmful substances.

But she fabricated the assessment only after he drank a bottle of Fairy Liquid and died the following day.

Stevens admitted perjury.

Swansea Crown Court heard how Mr Shelley, aged 68, had been brain damaged at birth and needed constant care.

Mr Shelley’s brother Martin was told he was about to be transferred to 10 Church Close, in Begelly near Tenby, west Wales, a four bedroom bungalow for mentally ill patients.

Mr Martin Shelley, an engineer familiar with risk assessments, visited the premises and became alarmed at the lack of internal locks.

In particular, he didn’t want his brother having unsupervised access to the kitchen where he might find something harmful to drink.

Stevens, of Kitchener Close, Pembroke Dock, should have completed a risk assessment but didn’t.

Catherine Richards, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that on July 13, 2013, a kitchen window had been left open on the hottest day of the year and Mr Shelley reached in and drank from the Fairy Liquid bottle.

Stevens, the team leader and the only qualified nurse on duty, told staff to give him plenty of water to drink and, later, to give him ginger biscuits and milk.

Stevens left work early. The staff who took over became concerned and he was taken to Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest.

But his condition deteriorated and he died the following day through multiple organ failure.

Martin Shelley told the authorities he had not seen a risk assessment and Stevens suddenly produced one, assuring him that staff would have been shown it.

The report was produced at an inquest into Mr Shelley’s death held in 2014. Stevens told the coroner the four page report, which addressed Mr Shelley’s access to the kitchen, had been prepared on April 14, 2013.

Mr Shelley became suspicious because it had been signed only by Stevens herself when all staff should have signed to confirm they had read and understood it.

Police became involved and seized a computer from 10 Church Close which showed the report had been compiled on July 18, 2013, four days after the fatality.

After her arrest, Stevens maintained the report was genuine and dated accurately.

When she was told later about the computer findings she declined to answer any more questions.

Stevens’ barrister, Jon Tarrant, said she would live forever with the guilt and remorse she felt over Mr Shelley’s death, but described it as a tragedy without intention.

It was difficult to know, he added, if a proper risk assessment would have avoided the fatality.

Mr Martin Shelley was allowed to address the court and said he believed his brother might not have died if all staff had understood how important it was to keep him away from harmful liquid substances.

The bungalow, he said, housed four mentally ill patients but had not been purposely built for someone with his brother’s difficulties.

“I was assured that a risk assessment would be carried out before he moved in, particularly in relation to the lack of internal locks.

“He was let down in his hour of need.

“His death, pain, suffering and distress could have been avoided,” he added.

The court heard that Stevens had been struck off as a nurse.

Judge Keith Thomas told Stevens she had fabricated the report and then lied about it to avoid criticism.

“You did this to cover up the fact you had not made proper provision for the challenges posed by Mr Shelley.

“I am not dealing with you for causing the death but for you did cause additional distress and anxiety to his family.

“You were deceitful and your lies were persistent,” he added.

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Pembrokeshire Lottery player wins brand new car

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PEMBROKESHIRE LOTTERY held their long-awaited Big Birthday Draw to celebrate their 25th anniversary. The lucky player who won the prize of a Fiat 500 from PMS Cars in Haverfordwest was Diane Boucher from Pembroke.

The draw was aired on 102.5 Radio Pembrokeshire and presenter Tommo rang Diane live on air to break the happy news.

Diane, who works at Hafal Crossroads in Haverfordwest didn’t realise it was the special birthday draw and thought she’d won the usual £2,000!

A couple of days later, Diane met Pembrokeshire Lottery Manager Abigail Owens and was handed the keys to her brand-new car. PMS owner John Green, who very generously upgraded the car to a top of the range Lounge model, was on hand to congratulate Diane in person.

The Big Birthday Draw comes as the Lottery’s special year of celebrations nears its end, but there are still extra prizes in December plus the £10,000 Christmas Superdraw.

If you don’t play yet, ring the Pembrokeshire Lottery on 01646 690800 to join and help them to assist more businesses in Pembrokeshire and create even more jobs. You could be a lucky winner too!

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Allied Healthcare to ‘minimise disruption’ as it looks to sell and transfer services

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ALLIED HEALTHCARE, who provide care services across Pembrokeshire, is exploring a range of options which include ‘the sale or transition of care and support services’, the Herald can reveal.

An employee from the troubled firm, who wished to stay anonymous, has shown the Herald a letter which has been sent to all employees this afternoon (Nov 16).

In the letter, the company says that the firm is looking to ‘minimise disruption to continuity of care’.

They go on to add that ‘our absolute priority will be to maintain continuity of care for our service-users and minimise disruption to you, our employees’.

In a letter to the employees, Narinder Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, said: “As you know, early last week, CQC Market Oversight – the Regulator that monitors large social care providers in England – issued what is known as a Stage 6 Notification to our Local Authority customers in England. This type of notification is intended to inform Commissioners that a Company is at risk and therefore Local Authorities or CCGs should consider making plans to ensure continuity of care.

“Unfortunately, I am writing to you today to inform you that, because of the impact of the Stage 6 notification on our business, and because the upcoming winter period is when ensuring continuity of care is most challenging, we have taken the decision to actively explore a range of options in order to minimise disruption to continuity of care.

“This will include the sale or transition of care and support services on a regional or contract-by-contract basis to alternative providers best placed to deliver care at a local level. This process will be conducted in close cooperation with all our customers.”

The letter goes on to reassure employees that they are ‘likely’ to be transferred to a new provider.

“It is our intention to transfer all of our Contracts to other providers.  This will mean that you are likely to transfer out to a new provider. When arranging the transition of our services to alternative providers, our absolute priority will be to maintain continuity of care for our service-users and minimise disruption to you, our employees.

“We will continue to trade safely while this transition process is underway and, during this period, there will be no changes to the terms of employment, salary or benefits of our employees. To reiterate, this means that you will continue to be employed by the Company and receive pay and benefits while the transition of our care services is arranged.

“I understand that this news will come as a surprise to you and may be unsettling. Please be assured that we will continue to do all we can to support you throughout this period and will respond to any concerns or questions you have throughout the process.

“On behalf of the Executive team and myself, I would like to offer our most sincere thanks for the continued support and efforts you have shown to the business during this very difficult time. We continue to remain committed to supporting you, our employees and Allied.”

A spokesperson for Allied Healthcare said: “The Stage 6 notification has negatively impacted Allied Healthcare, leading a number of customers to transfer care services to alternative providers, and disrupting staff retention and recruitment.

“These developments have intensified the impact of the challenging environment within which we operate and come immediately prior to the Christmas period, when pressures on care providers are at their highest. This has also meant that we have had to re-evaluate our long-term business plan.

“We are therefore actively exploring a range of options in order to minimise disruption to continuity of care, including the sale or transition of care and support services on a regional or contract-by-contract basis to alternative providers best placed to deliver care at a local level. Such sales or transitions will involve the transfer of staff. This process will be conducted in close cooperation with our customers.

“We continue to trade safely while this process is underway. RBS as our existing lender has agreed to extend our current credit line by up to three weeks beyond 30 November, enabling us to deliver safe continuity of care whilst we explore and implement these options.

“We will work closely with the CQC and all commissioners of care to ensure that there is minimal disruption to the care that we provide across the UK whilst this transition takes place. Continuity of care is our number one priority.”

Pembrokeshire County Council said it would like to reassure Allied Healthcare service users and their families that it has robust contingency plans in place ‘to ensure the continuity of care for customers of Allied Healthcare’

“Those plans will now be implemented”, a spokesman said.

In a statement, the Authority added: “County Council officers and staff at Allied Healthcare will continue to work closely with each other and with health colleagues and the Welsh Government to
ensure that continuity of care is maintained through this challenging time.

“We will continue to keep service users and their families briefed as the situation unfolds.
If customers do have any concerns over the weekend, they are advised to contact Allied Healthcare.”

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