Business Explosion in Tarragona: The empire of the owner of...

Explosion in Tarragona: The empire of the owner of the chemical company that was born in a jewelry store in Badajoz | Economy

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Nobody wants to put on the phone in Cristian Lay, the group that owns the Chemical Industries of Ethylene Oxide (IQOXE) located in La Canonja (Tarragona), which on Tuesday exploded causing two deaths and eight injuries. Based in Jerez de los Caballeros (Badajoz), the holding company To which the chemical plant belongs is an emporium that the businessman Ricardo Leal started with a jewelry store in 1981. “Always with the vision of taking his products to other regions of Spain and then to the world,” according to the corporate presentation, Cristian Lay It was growing and diversifying its offer to beauty, home automation, travel agency, plastics, packaging and chemical industry businesses to become a conglomerate of firms with 1,800 employees that invoice 400 million euros and is present in 22 countries. It is defined as a group of "transparent people" who value "the clarity of action and thought, only then can mutual trust be built."

Chemical Industries of Ethylene Oxide, which has opened an investigation into what happened, is one of the jewels of the corporation, with a turnover of 148 million euros and a profit of 18.2 million in its latest statements (2018) . The company was established in March 2014 after Ricardo Leal submitted an offer for that plant owned by La Seda de Barcelona put up for sale by the Barcelona number 1 court in charge of its bankruptcy proceedings. His CEO, José Luis Morlanes, said Wednesday at a press conference that the company followed the protocols: "We are convinced that we have done things well."

According to the latest accounts deposited in the Mercantile Registry, the factory complied with all types of safety standards and protocols. Specifically, it was subject to the OHSAS 18000: 2007 regulation, which at least in 2018 had surpassed “with favorable results” after making expenses that touched the half million euros and that included an improvement of the fire network, process safety equipment, protections on machines, communication equipment and safety equipment. The company is part of a consortium formed by the main European manufacturers of ethylene oxide and glycols. And as a member of the Tarragona AEQT chemical management, he participated in a security improvement process that audits subcontracted companies. In relation to the regulations on serious accidents, a security opinion was evaluated a year ago by an inspection entity “with favorable results”. But everything seems to have failed after the disaster: Civil Protection of the Generalitat now accuses IQOXE of "not providing the information and not following the protocols" after the incident.

Juan Antonio Labat, director of Feique, the Spanish chemical employer, does not remember anything similar in his professional career. “In the absence of knowing the result of the investigation, you cannot exclude that an accident occurs, that something will fail in the process. We know there are human errors. But no one thought that a reactor plate could come out that ended two kilometers away. I do not remember that there has been a similar case throughout Europe. ” It refers to the metal plate 1.22 meters wide, 1.65 long and three centimeters thick that hit the Torreforta neighborhood building after the explosion, causing the death of a local neighbor. The third floor of the building where he lived shattered and the rubble crushed the victim. "Surely this will generate some kind of norm in the future," he predicts. Labat recalls that IQOXE was in the Employer Responsible Care program where companies in the sector share good security practices. “In the industry we protect ourselves a lot against possible accidents, the incidence is eight times lower than the industrial average,” recalls Labat.

A powerful sector

The petrochemical sector in Catalonia is made up of 792 companies, in which about 35,000 people work, of which about 135 were employed in the injured plant, according to the Generalitat. According to the 2018 report of the Chemical Business Association of Tarragona, the accident frequency index in the companies of that association was 1.65 per million hours worked, "considerably lower" than that of most others sectors, not only industrial. In Spain, the sector is made up of 3,300 companies with a turnover of 65,647 million euros, which, according to Feique, generates 13.4% of the gross industrial product and 670,000 direct jobs (196,000), indirect and induced. The accident incidence rate was three times lower in 2018 than that experienced by the Services sector, with an accident for every 230,000 hours worked.

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