California Refinery Regs Require Safety Culture Assessments

The regulations include requirements to adopt inherently safer designs and systems to the greatest extent feasible and also require periodic workplace safety culture assessments to evaluate whether management is appropriately emphasizing safety over production pressures.

New regulations that aim to improve workers' safety and environmental protection at the 15 oil refineries operating in California have been given final approval and will take effect Oct. 1, 2017, Cal/OSHA announced. The regulations implement key recommendations of the Governor's Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety, which was created after the Aug. 6, 2012, Chevron refinery fire. Developed by the Department of Industrial Relations, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, and the California Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations make California refineries safer for both workers and surrounding communities, according to the agencies.

"California now leads the nation in protecting the safety and health of refinery workers and people in nearby communities," said David M. Lanier, secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

The regulations overhaul Cal/OSHA worker safety regulations as they apply to refineries and the California Accidental Release Prevention program that is designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances that could harm public health and the environment. "These new regulations increase overall preparedness, provide greater accountability, and implement a nation-leading approach to public safety and emergency prevention at refineries," explained Governor's Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci.

"The goal of these regulations is to hold refineries accountable for the safety of workers and communities," added Matthew Rodriquez, California's secretary for Environmental Protection. "Thanks to input from refinery workers, industry leaders, and environmental and community organizations, we can better anticipate problems and prevent accidents that might pose serious risks to the public and environment."

Key features of the regulations include:

  • Increased employer accountability for the mechanical integrity of refinery equipment
  • Requirements to adopt inherently safer designs and systems to the greatest extent feasible
  • Increased employee involvement in all aspects of the safety and prevention program
  • Periodic workplace safety culture assessments to evaluate whether management is appropriately emphasizing safety over production pressures
  • Authority for refinery personnel to shut down a unit, if necessary, in the event of an unsafe condition or emergency
  • Provisions for anonymous reporting of safety hazards
  • Requirements for investigations to determine root causes of any incident that occurs and develop interim and permanent corrective measures in response
  • Annual public reporting of refinery safety metrics under the Accidental Release Prevention program

Cal/OSHA reports many of the state's refineries have adopted some of these practices and have seen significant improvement in safety performance as a result.

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