Oil Refinery Worker Interview: Bill Broussard

Bill Broussard has worked in some of the largest refineries in the world for over a quarter of a century in many different roles. He has witnessed firsthand the effects of hurricanes Rita and Katrina on the refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Q: How long have you worked in refineries?

A: Twenty-eight years.

Q: What, specifically, do you do?

A: Pipefitting, tubing fitting, I’ve been a cherry picker operator. I’ve worked with the mill operators. I’ve worked within a lot of fields at one time or another.

Q: What is the biggest change you have seen in refineries?

A: From ’77 until now, safety is one of the biggest changes you’ll see period. I mean, it’s gone from almost none to where you can hardly do anything unless there’s been a procedure put in order for safety.

Q: So what you’re saying is that twenty years ago safety was almost non-existent?

A: Well, if that’s the way people want to put it they can. However, it was not a forced safety deal. It was just as safe almost then because the people were their own safety. So if you wanted to be safety-wheeling you were. All of these tools they come up with help but they don’t make you safe as a person. But they do make you stop, slow down, and check the awareness level of the people doing a task and make sure everybody understands before they begin a task. Before, you had the unions. Well not so much the unions but the unions had schools which educated people to their tasks. Now you have to have something to make the people aware of the implications of what they’re doing because the schools are not there anymore. That’s the reason for all the safety procedures now.

Q: Have the refineries changed much in the way they operate?

A: Well, they’ve come up with some ideas. They’ve de-bottlenecked, which helps production. I’m not a chemical engineer, but I don’t see where they’re much different now than they were when I started. The same plants I’ve helped build as an apprentice are still there still there, still running. We’ve revamped and restarted a bunch of different plants that were shut down from before I was an apprentice and they’re still there, still running. If they’ve changed it’s been a little here, a little there. Your chemical engineers”¦ I’m sure have added some substances to make things run a little faster, a little neater, and a little cleaner, but in my experience the basic operations have not changed much.

Q: Is the job market good right now for refineries?

A: Since the hurricanes Rita and Katrina, we had a lot plants that were affected. And when you’re talking about the major refineries along the coast, everybody was affected. There were more jobs than you could possibly find people to do. Now it’s slow. But the refineries always slow in the summer months. It always picks up the first of the year and the end of the year. In the middle months it’s always slow. The first of the year is always your big turnarounds. It’s just the way it’s been since I can remember. Unless it’s something crucial like an emergency shutdown, it’s always slower in the summer months. It’s a safety issue too. It’s hard to work a man in the summer months”¦

Q: Wearing Nomex?

A: Yeah, stuff like that. That’s the way it’s been since I can remember.

Q: Have you ever worked in any refineries abroad, outside the United States?

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