Industrial Fire World - Blog - Workplace safety and health regulation seeks to reduce risk of major incidents at California oil refineries

Workplace safety and health regulation seeks to reduce risk of major incidents at California oil refineries

Oakland, CA - The  Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has approved new workplace safety and health regulations at oil refineries across the state intended to provide a framework for anticipating, preventing and responding to hazards at refineries.

“This is the most protective regulation in the nation for the safety and health of refinery workers and surrounding communities,” said DIR Director Christine Baker. “This new regulation will ensure California’s oil refineries are operated with the highest levels of safety possible and with injury and illness prevention in mind.”

The approved regulation introduces a new refinery safety order enforced by Cal/OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) Unit, adding section 5189.1 to Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations. The elements outlined in the regulation require refinery employers to:
• Conduct Damage Mechanism Reviews for processes that result in equipment or material degradation. Physical degradation, such as corrosion and mechanical wear, are common technical causes of serious process failures.  
• Conduct a Hierarchy of Hazard Controls Analysis  to encourage refinery management to implement  the most effective safety measures when considering competing demands and costs when correcting hazards.
• Implement a Human Factors Program,  which requires analysis of human factors such as staffing  levels , training and competency, fatigue and other effects of shift work, and the human-machine interface.
• Develop, implement and maintain written procedures for the Management of Organizational Change  to ensure that plant safety remains consistent during personnel changes.   
• Utilize Root Cause Analysis when investigating any incident that results in, or could have reasonably resulted in, a major incident.
• Perform and document a Process Hazard Analysis of the effectiveness of safeguards that apply  to particular processes and identify, evaluate and control hazards associated with each process.
• Understand the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety and evaluate responses to reports of hazards by implementing and maintaining an effective Process Safety Culture Assessment program.

The regulation represents  a comprehensive safety performance standard for the state’s refinery sector, a DIR press release states. Now that the Standards Board  has approved the regulation, the Office of Administrative Law has 30 working days  to review and approve it.  

The new rules are part of a package of complementary regulations intended to make California refineries safer for both workers and surrounding communities. The companion regulation affects the California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) program, designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances that could harm public health and the environment. The revised CalARP regulation will also be submitted to the Office of Administrative Law for approval in the coming weeks.

The California Environmental Protection Agency  formed the task force  in August 2013, which includes DIR, eight other state agencies, the US Environmental Protection Agency, as well as local and regional agencies from across the state that have refineries in their jurisdictions.    

Cal/OSHA’s PSM Unit  is responsible for inspecting refineries and chemical plants that handle large quantities of toxic and flammable materials. Health and safety standards enforced by the PSM Unit, including adequate worker  training  and participation, are intended to prevent catastrophic explosions, fires, and releases of dangerous chemicals , which could harm workers.

Prior to 2012, Cal/OSHA’s PSM Unit conducted on average two to three planned refinery inspections per year, taking a single investigator approximately 80 hours to complete. Cal/OSHA has subsequently increased staffing of the PSM Unit from 10 to 24 staff members, including support personnel and investigators. The PSM Unit now has the resources to conduct more thorough inspections, deploying four to five inspectors at the four annual planned refinery inspections with an average of over 2000 hours at each planned inspection.

In addition, the PSM unit invests 900 hours on average at each of the four turnaround nspections conducted at refineries each year.  Turnarounds are scheduled operations  where an entire process unit at a refinery  is taken offline  for an extended period for revamp or  renewal.

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