Safety and OSHA News

Judge throws out $2.38M in fines to Tesoro in explosion that killed 7 workers

A judge’s decision to vacate $2.38 million in fines against a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, WA, came as a shock to state safety officials who now say they’ll appeal the ruling. 

A judge of the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals said the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (the state’s OSHA) didn’t make its case to issue 45 violations (39 willful) and the highest workplace safety fine in the agency’s history for the explosion that killed seven workers.

L&I has asked the full board to review the judge’s decision. If the board takes up the review, it has six months to issue a decision. If the board doesn’t review the case, the judge’s order becomes final.

The state’s investigation showed a heat exchanger at the refinery ruptured on April 2, 2010, releasing hydrocarbon vapor which ignited almost immediately.

L&I says Tesoro had operated failing equipment for years, postponed maintenance, inadequately tested for potentially catastrophic hazards and failed to adequately protect its workers.

The heat exchangers at the plant were 40-years-old.

The willful violations against Tesoro included failure to:

  • inspect equipment consistent with recognized engineering practices and industry standards
  • test for cracks and other defects in equipment prone to damage from thermal fatigue
  • implement its own corrosion awareness and management program
  • repair equipment
  • develop start-up procedures for the heat exchangers that clearly described the hazards workers faced, and
  • ensure workers involved in starting the heat exchangers were properly trained.

A separate investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said a poor safety culture was a root cause of the explosion.

The CSB noted the Tesoro explosion was very similar to one that occurred at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA, in August 2012. The Chevron incident created a vapor cloud that sent 15,000 residents to the hospital with respiratory problems.

Chevron agreed to pay $2 million in fines and restitution in a settlement with California, including $1.28 million in fines, $575,000 in reimbursement to the state and $145,000 to a program that trains workers for jobs in renewable energy and construction.

Washington L&I called the Tesoro explosion and deaths “the worst industrial disaster in the more than 40 years that the Department of Labor and Industries has been enforcing the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act.”

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