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Washington L&I proposes increased petroleum refinery safety regulations

By Tom Joyce | The Center Square Contributor

(The Center Square) – The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, or L&I, has proposed workplace safety rules for petroleum refineries designed to prevent catastrophic events like the 2010 explosion that killed seven workers at the former Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

The proposed change beefs up worker protection by updating what’s known as process safety management, or PSM, which deals with how workplaces handle dangerous chemicals at petroleum refineries.

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

According to the news release, these are the requirements the state wants to implement:

  • Performing reviews to identify the most effective ways to control a hazard.
  • Incorporating consideration of human factors like staffing levels and turnover, training, fatigue, and task complexity; conducting root cause analyses after significant accidents.
  • Frequently analyzing hazards, safeguards and controls, mechanical factors, and process changes and updating safety programs accordingly.
  • Assessing workplace safety culture so workers and managers prioritize safety, not production.

The proposed rule was developed with input from refinery operators, worker advocates and other industry stakeholders and largely aligns with California’s PSM rule that is already in effect.

L&I’s filing of the proposed rule includes the start of the formal process for public input.

Hearings are scheduled for Aug. 10 and Aug. 17 in Bellingham, with a virtual hearing to be held on Aug.15.

The updated PSM rule is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Full details of the proposed change can be found here.

According to the May 2014 final report released by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the explosion at the former Tesoro refinery was caused by what’s known as a high-temperature hydrogen attack, which severely cracked and weakened carbon steel tubing that led to the rupture. As a result, the federal government recommended the state adopt a more rigorous PSM.