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Washington state looks to update decades-old rule on refinery safety


Photo: cpaulfell/iStockphoto

Tumwater, WA — Prompted by a fatal explosion and fire in 2010, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is proposing changes to its workplace safety rules for petroleum refineries.

Seven workers were fatally injured when a heat exchanger catastrophically failed during a maintenance operation at the former Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, WA.

Announced on June 22, the proposal focuses on process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals. PSM ensures processes, people and equipment all work together to reduce risk, Washington L&I says in a press release.

“Washington’s PSM rule has not been updated in almost 30 years,” Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in the release. “Processes and technology in the industry have advanced – the rules to protect workers should, too.”

The proposal would require refineries to:

  • Perform reviews to identify the most effective ways to control a hazard.
  • Incorporate considerations of human factors, such as staffing levels and turnover, training, fatigue, and task complexity.
  • Conduct root cause analyses after significant workplace incidents.
  • Frequently analyze hazards, safeguards and controls, mechanical factors, and process changes, and update safety programs accordingly.
  • Assess workplace safety culture to ensure workers and managers prioritize safety over production.

“The proposed rule will improve safety at the five refineries in our state by making sure they’re eliminating and reducing risk – not just reacting to it,” Blackwood added.

Three public hearings are set to take place in August – two in person (Aug. 10 and 17) and one virtually/via phone (Aug. 15). Comments on the proposed rule are due Aug. 24.

L&I says it expects to have the updated PSM rule in place by the end of the year.

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