California's Final Refinery Safety Report Backs Inherently Safer Technologies

The state's Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety released the report Feb. 13. It recommends making inherently safer technologies mandatory for the 21 refineries in the state, as well as root cause analysis after significant incidents.

California's Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety released its final report Feb. 13 with recommendations for state actions intended to prevent major incidents like the August 2012 pipe failure at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, which prompted the working group's creation. The report recommends making inherently safer technologies mandatory for the 21 refineries in the state, as well as root cause analysis after significant incidents.

The report recommends incorporation these six prevention strategies into the CalARP and Cal/OSHA process safety management programs and making them enforceable statewide: (1) the adoption of inherently safer systems, (2) use of safety culture assessments, (3) incorporation of damage mechanism hazard reviews, (4) root cause analyses requirements, (5) required consideration of human factors, and (6) required use of structured methods to ensure effective safeguards in process hazard analysis.

"The intent of inherently safer system requirements is to ensure that refineries incorporate the greatest degree of hazard reduction, to the maximum extent feasible, in order to avoid major accidents or releases," it states. "The focus is on adopting measures that are permanent and inseparable from the production process, as opposed to adding on equipment or installing external layers of protection. For example, had a more comprehensive inherently safer system approach been in place at its Richmond refinery, Chevron would have been forced to demonstrate why continuing to use low-silicon metal susceptible to corrosion was a viable process safety solution, given other inherently safer options."

Nineteen workers were engulfed in a vapor cloud on Aug. 6, 2012, when a pipe failure at the Chevron refinery released high-temperature flammable liquid. The vaporized fluid ignited, but the workers were not seriously injured. More than 15,000 people in communities close to the plant were evacuated, however, because of the smoke from the combustion.

"Our findings and recommendations were shaped by input from refinery workers, community members, industry leaders, and local and state agencies," Matt Rodriquez, California's secretary for Environmental Protection, said Feb. 13. "Our goal is improving safety practices at refineries to make them better neighbors and better employers, and developing more reliable and effective emergency response plans."

Additional recommendations in the report call for strengthening enforcement capacity to ensure adequate oversight of refineries, examining operational safety and organizational structures at refineries as a way to reduce human factors (such as lack of training, insufficient experience or fatigue) that can cause hazards, and affording more community access to air quality monitoring information in and around refineries. "These recommendations present an opportunity to make real and lasting improvements in refinery safety and oversight that will benefit everyone: workers and contractors, communities, first responders, the refinery operators themselves, and our natural resources. We're working hard to implement these recommendations and are more than doubling the staff who enforce refinery safety regulations," said Christine Baker, director of the state's Department of Industrial Relations, parent agency of Cal/OSHA.

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