The California Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) today announced that it has issued 25 citations against Chevron USA, including proposed penalties totaling nearly $1 million. The action was triggered by state safety violations at Chevron’s Richmond refinery associated with a fire on August 6, 2012.
Eleven of the citations for the Richmond refinery were classified as “willful serious” and twelve as “serious” violations, resulting in the highest penalties in Cal/OSHA’s history.
Additionally, Cal/OSHA announced that it has ongoing investigations of Chevron’s El Segundo refinery near Los Angeles and its oilfield operations in Lost Hills near Bakersfield. It gave no details as to the types or severity of violations and/or potential fines at those facilities.
“Ensuring worker safety is the employer’s responsibility,” said Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker, who oversees Cal/OSHA. “Refineries must take the steps needed to prevent incidents like the August Chevron fire. Failure to do so can pose great dangers to workers, surrounding communities and the environment.”
A total of $963,200 in penalties was proposed, which Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess said are the highest allowed under state law. “Our investigators found willful violations in Chevron’s response before, during and after the fire,” said Widess.
The fire began when a severely corroded pipe began leaking in the refinery’s #4 Crude Unit. According to Cal/OSHA, Chevron managers told workers workers to remove insulation, but not to shut down the unit, which caused the pipe to rupture and the fire to start.
Reportedly 15,000 residents of surrounding communities sought treatment after breathing emissions from the fire. Fortunately, there were no serious worker injuries.
Cal/OSHA’s investigation revealed that:
- Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire. Those recommendations dated back to 2002.
- Chevron did not follow its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was identified, and did not protect its employees and employees of Brand Scaffolding who were working at the leak site.
The “willful serious” violations include the following:
- Chevron did not follow its own policies or act on repeated recommendations to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured;
- Chevron did not test pipe thickness in areas identified as susceptible to corrosion and leaks because of the high temperature and high-sulfur content of the crude oil;
- Chevron did not implement its own emergency procedures to shut down the Crude Unit where the leak occurred, and exposed workers to harm by directing them to remove insulation;
- Chevron did not recognize the potential for a catastrophic release of ignitable diesel fuel from the leaking pipe, and ordered contractor employees to erect a scaffold at the leak site;
- Chevron allowed workers to enter the hazardous incident zone without proper personal protective equipment;
- Chevron had pervasive violations in its leak repair procedures throughout the refinery. Cal/OSHA investigators identified leaks in pipes that Chevron had clamped as a temporary fix. In some cases the clamps remained in place for years, rather than replacing the pipes themselves.
Cal/OSHA also found that Chevron violated its own safety procedures. All refineries are required to develop “process safety management” (PSM) procedures, including a comprehensive safety plan. The plan specifies what hazards exist and what must be done to reduce or eliminate them.
“It is Chevron’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its operations. Having an effective workplace safety culture is essential in preventing these kinds of incidents,” said Widess. “This case demonstrates the risks that occur when a refinery does not follow its own safety maintenance program.”