A Devastating Fire at Wynnewood Refinery Kills an Employee, Leaving Another Injured: A Critical Incident and Its Impact on Workplace Safety
In a tragic turn of events on the morning of May 23, 2023, a massive fire broke out at the Wynnewood Refinery in Oklahoma; killing an employee and severely injuring another. The incident highlights the importance of prioritizing life safety and being prepared for the worst with a comprehensive emergency action plan (EAP). The fire and resulting explosion is far from unique, and it serves as a reminder of the potential risks associated with the oil and gas industry and other life threatening workplaces. As incidents like this continue to occur, they force us to cast our current life safety standards into doubt and shift our focus to prioritizing evacuation management and life safety systems.
“The refinery has seen its fair share of trouble over the years,” says one Wynnewood resident, “all it needs is one big explosion and it is going to wipe this whole town out.” The refinery has been plagued by incidents, with fires and explosions in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012. Another resident that has lived in Wynnewood for the past 25 years said this explosion reminded him of the incident in 2012 that killed two people and led to the refinery being fined nearly $300,000. “This disaster was the same as the last one – waiting for them to come by to evacuate you.”
The incident occurred in the gasoline hydrotreater of the refinery, which is owned by CVR Energy.
- At about 8:20 am, an explosion was reported; causing a fire in the refinery’s gasoline hydrotreater. A local resident described hearing a “big boom” and feeling his house shake. He initially didn’t see anything, but later noticed black smoke traveling to the other end of town.
- Emergency services were quickly mobilized, with regional firefighters from Oklahoma City and Tulsa responding quickly to prevent the fire from spreading. The Wynnewood Fire Department set up a landing zone at a local football field for medical transport.
- Two employees near the explosion were critically injured after being engulfed in flames. The first was flown to Texas for treatment with burns covering 90% of his body, and later passed away. The second was transported to an ICU for treatment. Donations can be made to the affected families here and here.
- By 12:26 pm, the source of the fire had been isolated and emergency crews were working to extinguish it. The fire was eventually controlled, showcasing the expertise and resilience of the firefighting teams.
- The part of the refinery that was impacted was shut down for safety, but the rest of the refinery was reported as safe and remained operational. There was no reported threat to the community, but U.S. Highway 77 and a section of railroad were briefly shut down as a safety precaution.
- Following the incident, CVR Energy announced that a thorough investigation was underway to determine the cause of the fire. It’s unclear at this time whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will also be investigating.
The Challenges of Accounting for Everyone
The history of fires and explosions at the Wynnewood Refinery underscores the urgency to enhance life safety standards and best practices in the oil and gas industry now. Incidents like this refinery explosion force businesses to reevaluate their existing emergency action plans, safety protocols, and their implementation of preventive measures to avoid their recurrence.
The fire took three hours to get under control and the incident was enough to shut down a nearby highway and railroad station. Amidst the turmoil and uncertainty, you can imagine the fear and chaos not only in and around the refinery, but anyone with ties to someone working there. Thankfully, according to a spokesperson for CVR Energy, every other person that was on-site at the time of the disaster was eventually accounted for. Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the situation, they were forced to urge concerned individuals to call the refinery directly by phone for updates on their loved ones.
“I would strongly recommend that if you are interested in the welfare of a relative that works at the refinery, that you should contact the refinery directly at (405) 665-6565 – Randy Stevens would be who you would ask for,” said David Johnson with Garvin County Emergency Management through local news outlets at the time of the emergency.
For organizations that face risks to life safety, proactive measures are essential to ensure the well being of every person in their facilities:
- Emergency Response Preparedness: Well-defined emergency action plans should encompass accounting for every person in your facilities, evacuation procedures, communication protocols, and coordination with local emergency services. Conducting drills and simulations can help identify potential gaps and improve the effectiveness of emergency response efforts.
- Comprehensive Safety Training: Employees, visitors, and contractors need to be well-versed in managing evacuations, handling hazardous materials, operating machinery, and responding to emergencies. Regular refresher courses and drills are essential to reinforce these practices.
- Effective Safety Communication: Clear communication channels are vital for disseminating safety-related information, including updates on equipment maintenance, potential hazards, and emergency procedures. Employees, visitors, and contractors should have access to this information and feel empowered to report safety concerns.
- Continuous Learning and Improvement: Organizations need to foster a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging employees to report safety concerns and champion process enhancements. Regular safety audits and assessments can identify areas for improvement and help ensure compliance with industry standards.
Accounting for Every Visitor, Contractor, and Employee in Your Facilities
When a devastating incident like the Wynnewood explosion occurs, it serves as a sobering reminder of the importance of workplace safety. It emphasizes the need for proactive measures to help prevent emergencies, protect employees, and safeguard communities. By prioritizing emergency response preparedness, comprehensive safety training, effective safety communication, rigorous inspections, and continuous improvement, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of losing human lives. The key lies in a collective commitment of employers, employees, and industry regulators to maintain a robust culture of life safety that prioritizes people and their well-being.
For a comprehensive dive into the best practices for evacuation management, mass notifications, and ensuring life safety, check out The Complete Guide to Emergency Mustering: