Workers’ unsafe behavior triggers most terminal accidents, expert says

More training, standards and evaluation of workplace performance are needed to prevent accidents at bulk liquid storage terminals that handle crude oil, chemicals and other products, a safety expert said Tuesday at an industry conference.

Kevin Smith, senior director of downstream health, safety and environment for Murphy Oil, told attendees to the International Liquid Terminals Association Operating Conference & Trade Show that understanding how accidents happen is key.

“We need to understand the hazards in our workplace,” Smith said, during the conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. “We need to change our behavior. We need to educate the workforce.”

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Eighty percent to 95 percent of accidents are triggered by unsafe behavior, Smith said. Some hazards remain harmless unless one or two combine and are triggered by unsafe behavior, he added.

That can give employees a false sense of security, a sort of positive reinforcement that their unsafe behavior can sometimes go without consequences.

“Accidents happen because there are inherent hazards in the workplace,” Smith said. “People take shortcuts, work unsafely. Negative behavior is reinforced by positive outcomes, there is a reward.”

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But Smith said vigilance is extremely important at all times to promote safety in the workplace, especially when dealing with dangerous materials.

“We can’t change the flammable nature of gasoline,” Smith said. “We can change the unsafe behavior of people.”

The ILTA represents companies that operate bulk liquid storage terminals in 49 countries. The terminals are located in ports and along rivers, canals and pipelines.

In addition to crude oil and chemicals, products handled include renewable fuels, fertilizers, vegetable oils and other food grade materials.