On Oct. 23, 1989, a series of explosions and fire killed 23 people and injured 314 at the Phillips Petroleum Company Plant in Pasadena, Texas.

The Phillips 66 Chemical Complex near the Houston Ship Channel produced chemical compounds used in plastics production. The explosions occurred when more than 85,000 pounds of highly flammable gases were released through an open valve that was not properly secured during routine maintenance on a polyethylene reactor.

It took an estimated 90 to 120 seconds for the vapor cloud to move throughout the plant and come into contact with an ignition source, setting off a series of six explosions. The initial blast registered 3.5 on the Richter Scale and the ensuing fire took 10 hours to bring under control.

A detailed investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found a long list of violations by Phillips 66 Company and Fish Engineering and Construction Inc., a maintenance contractor working on the site. These violations included:

  • Lack of process hazard analysis
  • Inadequate standardized operating procedures
  • Inadequate maintenance permitting system
  • Inadequate lockout/tagout procedures
  • Lack of combustible gas detection and alarm system
  • Inadequate ventilation systems in nearby buildings
  • Fire protection system not in sufficient state of readiness
  • High occupancy structures too close to hazardous operations
  • Inadequate space between buildings

Phillips 66 faced 566 willful violations and 9 serious violations and a proposed fine of $5,666,200, with another 181 willful and 12 serious violations for Fish Engineering and $729,600 in fines.

OSHA and Phillips reached a settlement for the violations, with OSHA removing the willful characterization of the violations and Phillips agreeing to pay $4 million in fines and instituting process safety management procedures at its facilities.

Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers have represented victims of many of the largest maritime and industrial accidents in the U.S., including the Phillips Disaster of 1989. If you or a loved one was injured in an industrial accident, contact our Texas refinery explosion attorneys today for assistance.