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Valero Refinery Disaster and Confined Space Entry

Summary of the events

On November 5, 2010, a disaster occurred at the Valero Delaware City, Delaware. Two workers succumbed to suffocation within a process vessel. According to the report, the victims were unaware of the presence of too much nitrogen, as a result of the gas being odorless in nature, and unable of identifying the danger they were exposed to (U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2006a). Only after their bodies had been deprived of oxygen and filled with nitrogen, the effects probably started manifesting.

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Had particular steps been taken to ensure safety within the confined space, the fate of the two victims would probably have been less fatal. One of such steps, as stipulated in the Safety and Health Fact Sheet No. 36 as a requirement for confined spaces (American Welding Society, 2009), is to constantly monitor and ventilate the confinement so as to ensure that the safe exposure limits are not exceeded.

Something else that could have saved the lives of the two victims would have been to check that the vents were unclogged and leak free. This would have ensured the circulation of clean and safe air within the vessel.

Having more than one watchpersons at the entry of the vessel to constantly check in on the workers would also have contributed to saving the lives of the workers. This would ensure that as one foreman attends to an incident, the other would quickly set an alarm and request for immediate medical attention.

Analysis of the initial vessel entry

The vessel entry, as shown in the video from the company’s website, seems to have been blocked (U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2006b). The nature of the entry probably made it even harder for the victims to climb back up even if they suspected they had being suffocated by poisonous gas. The foreman could have had a chance of surviving if he had alerted any other worker that he was going down to attend to the motionless entrant who seemed to be in trouble. He could have also taken time to put on an artificial respirator incase the air within the vessel had reached dangerous levels. Although it would have taken a little time, it could have helped save his life.

Importance of safety procedures within confined spaces

Safety procedures within confined spaces are put there with the primary objective of ensuring worker’s safety. They are part of company regulations that must be followed before a permit is issued, allowing the company to carry on with their business (Asfahl & Rieske, 2009).

However, some companies may want to evade such rules in an attempt to reduce operational costs. However, such cases are monitored and checked by the authorities so as the working conditions follow the requirements stated in the OSHA Construction Safety and Health Regulations (1926.21). Regarding the confined spaces, it is said that workers who access confined or enclosed spaces should be aware of the nature of the hazards involved and educated in the use of protective and emergency equipment provided by the company, thus all the necessary precautions are to be taken.

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Roles and responsibilities of entrants, attendants, and supervisors in confined spaces

The entrants/workers in any confined space have the right and responsibility to ask for equipment, such as respirators and gas masks in order to safeguard their own health. They also deserve to be trained on how to operate the equipment for maximum efficiency.

Attendants and supervisors are supposed to be always alert and on standby in case of any accident. Appropriate response plans should be formulated and protocol followed to avoid the consequences of any accident.


The accident that occurred at Valero Refinery on November 5, 2010, was absolutely devastating and served as a wakeup call to all the participants within the industry. The fatalities could have been avoided only if the proper controls had been put in place and accurately implemented.

Other facilities, such as panic buttons within the confined spaces, could actually reduce fatalities and make it easy for working process to be monitored.

The adoption of emergency drills in such companies would test their response time and help workers know what to do in case of actual danger.


American Welding Society. (2009). Ventilation for Welding and Cutting. (Safety and Health Fact Sheet No. 36). Web.

Asfahl, C.R. &. Rieske, D.W. (2009). Industrial Safety and Health Management (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. (2006a). Confined Space Entry – Worker and Would-be Rescuer Asphyxiated. (Case Study No. 2006-02-I-DE). Web.

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. (2006b). Hazards of Nitrogen Asphyxiation. Web.

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"Valero Refinery Disaster and Confined Space Entry." StudyCorgi, 1 Dec. 2020,

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Valero Refinery Disaster and Confined Space Entry." December 1, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Valero Refinery Disaster and Confined Space Entry'. 1 December.

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