Yesterday, Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess held a public meeting in Richmond CA to report on that agencies investigation into the August 6th fire at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond. That fire spewed a toxic cloud over the local area, and caused a spike in gasoline prices on the West Coast.
“Our safety inspectors have been on the scene since the evening of the August 6(th) fire, collecting and testing evidence, interviewing more than 70 workers, and reviewing thousands of pages of documents turned over by Chevron,” Widess noted. “From the outset, Cal/OSHA has been coordinating our investigation into the cause of the fire with the U.S Chemical Safety Board, and benefiting from the long-standing collaboration with Contra Costa County Health Department’s Hazardous Materials Program in oversight of the Chevron refinery.”
In addition to investigating the cause of the refinery fire and subsequent refinery explosion, Cal/OSHA has opened three other investigations:
- an inspection to evaluate Chevron’s leak repair procedures and practices at the entire Richmond refinery,
- an inspection at Chevron’s El Segundo facility to evaluate equipment, procedures and practices involving the crude oil units similar to the one that caught fire in Richmond, and
- an inspection of a Chevron contractor whose workers were at risk during the Richmond incident.
“It is important to emphasize that while federal, state and local regulatory agencies conduct periodic oversight to evaluate refineries’ safety programs, it is employers who bear the responsibility to protect their workers and surrounding communities,” declared Widess. “We are committed to enforcing California’s worker health and safety laws, and will issue citations and require Chevron to correct all violations found. We anticipate that the initial investigation will be completed in February with any additional investigations completed later.”
Cal/OSHA’s “Process Safety Management” regulations require companies to implement safety plans for on-site hazardous materials processing. Employers must keep equipment in good condition, that work procedures are safe, control hazards, and to train workers in safe operations, to recognize and respond appropriately to hazards emergencies.
Widess said the various regulatory agencies are sharing ideas to strengthening compliance and enforcement collaboration between agencies. “We are exploring how to expand communication between agencies to increase data sharing, coordination of enforcement efforts and findings, and cross training of agency staff on safety and health hazards. The goal is to ensure that each agency’s staff is aware of the different regulations of the other agencies.”
In early August, the group ConsumerWatchdog.org issued a statement that Chevron has been evading real oversight and accountability due to a jigsaw puzzle like maze of regulatory agencies. For example the group noted that while The Department of Toxic Substances Control has oversight over hazardous waste, and that every refinery produces hazardous waste, the Department had no role over the hazardous waste produced by refineries. Generally speaking, refinery oversight is split among an alphabet soup of agencies at the city, county and state level.
The question is whether Cal/OSHA is trying to paint the image of making actual progress while actually doing nothing. Or is Cal/OSHA working to make a proper fix for regulatory oversight of refineries.
On July 27, Chevron released an earnings report stating that in the 2nd quarter of 2012 the company had earnings (a.k.a. profit) of $7.2 Billion.
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