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California standards board approves ‘landmark’ safety regulation for oil refineries

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Oakland, CA – The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for California’s Department of Industrial Relations has approved a regulation aimed at “anticipating, preventing and responding to hazards” at the state’s oil refineries.

The “landmark” regulation comes nearly five years after a Chevron refinery in the Bay Area city of Richmond experienced a sizable fire and release of chemicals that reportedly caused 15,000 people to seek medical attention. It requires refinery employers to:

  • Perform Damage Mechanism Reviews to analyze the processes that wear down equipment or materials, such as corrosion or friction-related erosion.
  • Administer a Hierarchy of Hazard Controls Analysis with the goal of prompting refinery managers to seek the best safety measures, even when looking at other demands such as cost.
  • Analyze effects of staffing levels, fatigue, competency, training, human and machine interaction, and other factors on the refinery workforce.
  • Develop, implement and maintain written safety procedures to ensure consistency is maintained even when personnel changes occur.
  • Use procedures that seek to identify the main cause(s) when investigating an event that could have “resulted in a major incident.”
  • Conduct and document a Process Hazard Analysis on the effectiveness of safeguards to certain operations, and then “identify, evaluate and control hazards associated with each process.”
  • Gain a greater understanding of the attitudes and values that employees share on safety and analyze their responses to hazard reports to develop and maintain a Process Safety Culture Assessment program.

In a press release, California DIR states that most refineries in the state already have adopted some of the guidelines in the past 10 years, adding that those facilities have witnessed a “significant improvement in safety performance.”

After its approval from the Standards Board, the Office of Administrative Law has 30 working days to review and authorize the regulation.

“This is the most protective regulation in the nation for the safety and health of refinery workers and surrounding communities,” DIR Director Christine Baker said in the release. “This new regulation will ensure California’s oil refineries are operated with the highest levels of safety possible and with injury and illness prevention in mind.”

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