Probe launched into refinery fire

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chevron refinery INLSA The Chevron oil refinery in Milnerton has been cordoned off while authorities investigate a flash fire in which a man died and another was injured. Photo: Jeffrey Abrahams

Cape Town - A team of investigators from the Labour Department is expected to visit the Chevron oil refinery after a man was killed and another severely injured during a “flash fire”. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Chevron South Africa refinery’s spokeswoman Delight Ngcamu-Aitken said on Sunday the “flash fire” had occurred during planned maintenance activities at about 4.30pm on Friday.

“We are very sorry to report that one worker died,” Ngcamu-Aitken said.

A second worker had sustained burns to his arm and had been taken to hospital for treatment.

“We have provided counselling to all those affected,” she said.

Ngcamu-Aitken said the families of the two men had asked for no details to be released to the media.

“We are working with the company that directly employs the contractors to try and address the needs of the workers’ families,” she said.

Disaster Risk Management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said the man who died had been suspended on a line when a flash fire broke out in the vessel.

“It appeared the man had fallen to his death. His body was recovered from the vessel and paramedics attempted to resuscitate him, but it was unsuccessful and he was declared deceased on the scene,” he said.

Solomons-Johannes said the other worker injured during the fire was recovering at Milnerton Mediclinic.

“The other crew member who was positioned at the top of the vessel suffered second-degree burn wounds to the face and partial body burns,” he said.

The plant had been closed in the interest of safety and for the investigation, he said.

Provincial Labour Department spokeswoman Candice van Reenen said that once the department’s team had visited the site it would be able to put together a preliminary report on what had happened.

Marius Croucamp, trade union Solidarity’s head of chemical industries, said while companies had tried to make working at refineries safer, it was “inherently dangerous” as a number of chemical processes occurred at these places.

Croucamp said the highest risk occurred when a shutdown - a meticulous operation sometimes planned two years in advance - took place.

He said that since 1994 the chemical industry had “tidied up” and put more focus on safety. There was generally a low number of incidents reported, he said.

“A root cause analysis now needs to be done so future accidents can be prevented,” he said.

In December, the refinery halted the flow of diesel from its Milnerton refinery to Cape Town harbour while it investigated the cause of a pipeline leak in the centre of the Paarden Eiland flea market.

In July, the Chevron refinery was shut down after a malfunction resulted in black smoke billowing from the Milnerton plant.

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Cape Times

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