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April 16, 2019
OSHRC: Connected vessels covered under PSM rule

The Process Safety Management (PSM) standard applies to equipment like boilers that don’t involve highly hazardous chemicals if the equipment is interconnected with or located near equipment that does, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission recently decided.

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The OSHRC upheld Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations of Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC, resulting from a boiler explosion that killed two workers.

Wynnewood Refining argued that OSHA’s PSM standard did not apply to the Wickes boiler at its petroleum refinery because the boiler operations did not involve highly hazardous chemicals. The commissioners disagreed. The OSHRC also rejected OSHA’s “repeat” citations, ruling that Wynnewood, LLC, is a different corporation from the facility’s previous owner, Wynnewood Refining Company, Inc.

Boiler explosion

Wynnewood, LLC’s refinery in Oklahoma processes crude oil and produces gasoline, propane, propylene, butane, fuel oils, and solvents. The refining processes also produce a refinery fuel gas (RFG) by-product that is mixed with natural gas to fuel the boiler.

On September 28, 2012, the boiler was started up using only natural gas. During start-up, too much natural gas was allowed into the boiler’s firebox—where fuel is burned to produce the flame that heats water in the boiler vessel. The boiler exploded, immediately killing one employee and injuring another, who died 28 days later.

OSHA PSM citations

OSHA cited Wynnewood under the PSM standard because the boiler was located near and interconnected with equipment involved in processes using highly hazardous chemicals.

The OSHRC agreed with the agency’s reasoning that the boiler was:

  • One of four boilers directly connected to a steam header that routes steam for use in a number of processes throughout the facility;
  • Connected to a pipeline from the refining equipment providing RFG to fuel the boiler; and
  • Located 100 feet from the reactor column in the refinery’s Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit (FCCU). Because of the interconnection and location of the boiler, the commissioners rejected Wynnewood’s argument that the boiler was exempt from the PSM standard because the volume of RFG used fell below the threshold of the standard. Wynnewood also suggested that because the boiler explosion did not damage the FCCU, a highly hazardous chemical release wasn’t probable.

The commissioners disagreed, pointing out that the standard covers processes that could cause a highly hazardous chemical release.

Repeat citations vacated

The OSHRC vacated OSHA’s citations for repeat violations. The agency had previously cited the same facility under its previous ownership. OSHA argued it was the same establishment because several of the day-to-day managers were in the same positions under Wynnewood, Inc., and Wynnewood, LLC.

The commissioners disagreed, pointing to several corporate changes:

  • High-level executives of Wynnewood, LLC’s current parent company, CVR Energy, took an increased role in day-to-day operations at the refinery;
  • They were frequently present during the transition from Wynnewood, Inc., to Wynnewood, LLC;
  • The new management made equipment upgrades and focused on improving safety, health, and the proper implementation of PSM at the refinery; and
  • The number of refinery safety personnel was nearly doubled.

PSM requirements

The decision in the Wynnewood case doesn’t create any new process safety requirements. In 2007, OSHA published an interpretation clarifying that the PSM standard applied to processes colocated or interconnected with those that do involve highly hazardous chemicals. The OSHRC’s decision confirms the agency’s current thinking.

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