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California moves ahead on refinery safety improvements

refinery fireCalifornia’s initiative to improve refinery safety is getting a big thumb’s up from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB). A report recently released by the California Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety “is an important milestone for improving refinery safety across the State of California,” said CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso.

The report, entitled “Improving Public and Worker Safety at Oil Refineries,” is part of an initiative undertaken by Governor Jerry Brown following the 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California. It addresses many of the safety recommendations contained in the CSB’s Chevron refinery accident report released in April 2013.

From a statement by Moure-Eraso:

The working group’s final report includes a number of strong recommendations which are in alignment with the CSB’s recommendations: that refineries should implement inherently safer systems to the greatest extent feasible; use formal techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of process safeguards; and perform damage mechanism hazard reviews to ensure corrosion hazards are accurately identified before accidents occur.

Furthermore the Working Group report recommends requiring companies to complete root cause analyses after significant accidents or releases, to explicitly account for human factors and organizational changes, and to perform periodic safety culture assessments.

Finally, the report indicates California will continue to pursue broader regulatory reforms, including what is called the “safety case” system that is already used overseas as well as in the U.S. space and nuclear sectors.  The safety case system is extensively discussed in a CSB draft report that was made public in December 2013.  Under the safety case system, refineries would have to demonstrate in advance to a competent, well-funded regulator that they have eliminated or properly managed process safety risks using modern standards and practices – with the goal of reducing risk “as low as reasonably practicable.”  The use of inherently safer designs and technologies is integral to the safety case system.

California is also in the process of tripling its force of specialized refinery safety inspectors, an initiative that is essential for the success of any regulatory system.

A serious incident last week at the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, California, where two operators were sprayed and burned by corrosive sulfuric acid underscores the ongoing risks to refinery workers unless the highest safety standards are in place. I am pleased to see the State of California taking aggressive action in response to this serious incident, by barring the restart of the Tesoro alkylation unit until safety is improved.

I commend the Governor’s working group on its final report and wholeheartedly support the state’s initiatives. These will ensure that the CSB’s recommendations are fully implemented and have a positive impact on the refineries and communities across the state – preventing accidents, saving workers’ lives and protecting nearby communities.

Click here to visit CSB investigation information page.
Click here to view the CSB interim report.

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