Washington Fines Tesoro $2.38 Million for Deadly Refinery Blast

October 18, 2010

The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash., will be fined a record $2.38 million for an April 2, 2010, explosion that killed seven refinery workers. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries cited the company for 39 willful violations and five serious violations following a six month investigation that found Tesoro violated numerous workplace safety regulations at the plant, including failing to check for cracks in the 40-year-old equipment involved in the fatal explosion.

“This explosion and the deaths of these men and women would never have occurred had Tesoro tested their equipment in a manner consistent with standard industry practices, their own policies and state regulations,” said L&I Director Judy Schurke.

L&I said a willful violation is a category of violation where an employer knowingly violates a rule and is plainly indifferent to correcting it, while a serious violation is one involving an instance where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

On April 2, a heat exchanger at the refinery ruptured, releasing hydrocarbon vapor that almost immediately ignited. Five men and two women died as a result. It is the worst industrial disaster in the 37 years that L&I has been enforcing the state’s workplace safety law, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, L&I said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said the record fine assessed against Tesoro “sends a clear message that these tragedies are not acceptable.”

As part of L&I’s investigation, the heat exchangers were sent to a laboratory in Ohio and dismantled for metallurgical testing. Tests revealed cracks had developed in many of the welds in the heat exchanger that exploded and in at least one other similar heat exchanger. These cracks likely developed over the years.

The heat exchangers were nearly 40 years old. In addition, they were subjected to extreme heat and pressure, wide temperature and pressure swings, extensive chemical exposure and a near doubling of production. These are all stresses that can damage this equipment, including causing cracking. Despite this, Tesoro failed to test the heat exchanger that exploded in a way that would have revealed such cracks, L&I said.

“If Tesoro had tested their equipment appropriately and had followed their other safety requirements, we believe that they would have found the cracks that caused this explosion and, either by replacing the equipment or repairing it, prevented this from happening,” said Dr. Michael Silverstein, assistant director, Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

L&I also criticized Tesoro for allowing workers to disperse flammable vapors while working in hard hats, gloves, goggles and basic flame-resistant coveralls – which was inadequate protection for the hazards. Tesoro did not have start-up procedures for the heat exchangers that clearly described the hazards workers would face; and failed to ensure workers involved in starting up the heat exchangers were properly trained.

Among the serious violations, Tesoro was cited for failing to ensure fire brigade members were properly trained and failing to ensure emergency communications were coordinated by a single incident commander.

Schurke said she expects Tesoro to work with the state to correct the hazards identified in the investigation.

A Tesoro spokesman told Reuters the company was reviewing the investigation results. “We cannot comment further until we have had time to thoroughly review the Labor & Industries citations,” spokesman Lynn Westfall said.

Topics Washington

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