Cal/OSHA's nationally recognized Process Safety Management (PSM) Unit has completed investigations at all of California's refineries in the aftermath of the deadly explosion in April at the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State. This measure was taken to ensure safeguards are in place to prevent California from experiencing a similar disaster. Cal/OSHA's PSM Unit released its inspection findings on October 11 and concluded that the hydrogen corrosion that led to the Tesoro accident was due to circumstances that do not exist in this state.

The California Emphasis Program report found that California's refiners are using the most advanced technology available for controlling the type of corrosion that can be caused by crude oil refining. The report highlights the existence of best practices in California's refinery industry. The California Department of Industrial Relations' (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which runs the Cal/OSHA Program, provided each refinery with a copy of the findings.

"Cal/OSHA's unprecedented approach to refinery safety is due to the PSM Unit developing a good working relationship and partnership with the refineries in California," said DIR Director John C. Duncan. "As the only agency in the nation having a dedicated Process Safety Management Unit, Cal/OSHA takes a cooperative, hands-on approach to process safety management. In addition to conducting accident investigations, our PSM Unit also conducts planned inspections, which means instead of waiting for accidents to happen, we go out there and make sure the proper measures are in place to minimize the potential for them to occur."

California's refineries cooperated fully with the PSM Unit's investigations by allowing inspectors unlimited access into the refineries and promptly providing the Unit with documents on request. Investigators also met with safety managers at the refineries to discuss safety concerns caused by corrosion damage. The PSM Unit examined each refiner's procedures and practices for identifying and mitigating the kind of corrosion damage that is known to be produced in naphtha hydrotreater process units, the same type of unit where the Tesoro blast occurred. This unit uses hydrogen to bring out impurities in naphtha, which is a flammable liquid byproduct of crude oil.

"Crude production is an inherently dangerous industry, but California's refineries are some of the safest in the nation due to the PSM Unit's multi-dimensional approach to refinery safety," said Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh. "Thanks in large part to the oversight of our PSM Unit, California's refiners use the most effective measures available to monitor corrosion, measures that were not used at the Tesoro plant in Washington State." "The routine oversight of the PSM Unit has promoted the ability and readiness of Cal/OSHA and industry representatives to pick up the phone to ask questions of each other. This has resulted in a teamwork approach that is highly valued," said Terry Schulte, Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Coordinator for Valero Refining Company, Benicia. "The Valero Benicia Refinery's involvement in the VPP further enhances that working relationship."

Cal/OSHA's Process Safety Management Unit is the only PSM unit in the nation dedicated to oversight of refineries and other operations handling large volumes of chemicals and was created in the aftermath of a 1999 settlement with the Tosco Corporation, which operated a refinery in California where an explosion killed four workers. In the 11 years since the PSM Unit was created, there have been three worker fatalities at refineries in California. The PSM Unit also regulates food handling facilities, alcohol and beverage manufacturers and chemical plants, among other industries. Cal/OSHA is the employee health and safety division of the Department of Industrial Relations.