In a recent report, some state safety agencies came under criticism for issuing lower fines than federal OSHA. However, that’s not the case everywhere, as a $2.38 million fine against a Washington company shows.
Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) issued that fine to Tesoro for an April explosion at its refinery in Anacortes that killed seven workers. It’s the largest fine in L&I’s history. L&I cited Tesoro for 39 willful violations.
An investigation showed that a heat exchanger at the refinery ruptured on April 2, 2010, releasing hydrocarbon vapor which almost immediately ignited.
L&I says Tesoro continued to operate 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, including the one that exploded, were 40 years old. Employees who dealt with the leaking equipment only wore hard hats, gloves, goggles and basic flame-resistant coveralls — inadequate protection for the hazards they faced.
The willful violations against Tesoro include 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 up the heat exchangers were properly trained.