Tesoro blocks feds from investigating refinery accident
Two workers severely burned in chemical spill
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is demanding access to the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, California, in order to investigate a Feb. 12 chemical spill that resulted in first- and second-degree burns to two workers.
The CSB fired off an angry letter to Tesoro CEO Greg Goff over the company’s refusal to preserve the site, comply with document requests and allow interviews.
“The actions taken by your company’s refinery management in consultation with your legal counsel…are contrary to the federal statute that governs access and cooperation by companies where an incident has occurred that is under investigation by the CSB,” said the letter, which was signed by CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso and board members Mark Griffon and Beth Rosenberg.
The injured workers were sprayed with sulfuric acid while putting a sampling station back in service at an alkylation unit, according to CSB.
Burns not serious?
Tesoro’s legal counsel claimed CSB did not have jurisdiction in the accident because it did not result in serious injury or substantial property damage.
“Acid splashing on worker’s unprotected faces or other parts of the body, resulting in first and second-degree burns requiring air evacuations to a hospital burn unit, treatment, and subsequent significant lost time at work, absolutely constitute serious injuries,” noted the CSB.
“However, even if no injuries had occurred, the CSB governing statutes provide authority for the agency to conduct hazard studies; the agency has for over a year been gathering information from numerous refineries with the intent of producing such a report.
“Therefore any serious accident – such as a significant sulfuric acid leak – falls under CSB jurisdiction.”
Trying to hide something?
The CSB said the company’s refusal to cooperate “call into question why Tesoro has taken this unprecedented action. It creates a real concern that Tesoro may be trying to withhold other facts and issues from the agency.”
The agency’s draft report on the 2010 accident at Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery which killed seven workers on January 30, 2014, found a multitude of shortcomings in Tesoro’s plant safety culture.
“The CSB is interested in examining safety culture issues stemming from the February 12 incident, providing another legal ground for our inquiry.
Workers sprayed by acid a "common occurrence"
“At the Martinez facility, despite your counsel’s efforts to block our access, we have proceeded in our investigation and have determined that a mechanical integrity failure occurred on equipment connected to a 100,000 gallon process vessel containing flammable hydrocarbons and concentrated sulfuric acid, resulting in the sprayed acid, and that operators being sprayed by acid and caustic during routine sampling activities is a common occurrence.
“We have also learned that protective equipment required by procedure for sampling was not provided for the workers at the time – operators did not have ready access to face shields and acid suit jackets at the Martinez facility.
“Furthermore, some workers have made the assertion to us and to their union representatives that they have been fearful for their jobs at times when they wished to express safety concerns. We therefore seek further access and renewed cooperation with your company in order to determine all the facts.
“We hasten to point out that the CSB is not a regulatory agency and does not issue fines or penalties, nor do we assess any individual blame for incidents. We look for root causes – to be shared with the workforce, the public and the industry in the interests of accident prevention.
“Our independent, high-quality reports and safety videos have been recognized and respected over the years for their important contributions to safety. We are dismayed that Tesoro would not stand in support of furthering this vital mission.
The accident is being investigated by Cal/OSHA. The unit involved in the incident will remain shut down until the state agency completes its review and allows a restart.