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July 15, 2013
Stay compliant—Cal/OSHA to add 19 inspectors

The California legislature has approved a plan to significantly increase the number of inspectors monitoring compliance at refineries and chemical plants. The approval comes in advance of the one-year anniversary of a serious chemical release and fire at the Chevron site in Richmond.

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Keep reading to find out more about this enforcement effort and other current Cal/OSHA inspection priorities.

The Chevron fire released a large vapor cloud that engulfed 19 workers and sent 15,000 residents of surrounding communities in search of medical treatment. And it resulted in the highest penalties in Cal/OSHA history.

On July 11, a working group on refinery safety released a draft report outlining steps to improve worker and public safety at refineries. Among recommendations was to “develop new regulations and practices to address the underlying causes of safety problems.”

The report also called for better coordination among Cal/OSHA and the other agencies involved, including Cal/EPA. By September 1, an Interagency Refinery Task Force will be established to coordinate activities and carry out the recommended actions.

State Senator Loni Hancock spearheaded the legislative effort to increase the number of state safety inspectors who oversee refineries and other chemical facilities. She has also introduced legislation that would allow for greater oversight by requiring refineries to report their schedules for shutdowns for maintenance, repair, or inspection to Cal/OSHA. In the Chevron incident, the employer had reportedly known for years of the defective pipes and other equipment, which led to the fire.

State also cracking down on confined spaces

Confined spaces are another current Cal/OSHA enforcement priority. Cal/OSHA recently cited a concrete company following the death of a 40-year-old worker who was working inside a cement mixer when he was struck by a 1,200-pound slab.

Last winter, Cal/OSHA launched a statewide Confined Space Special Emphasis Initiative to foster awareness and prevention of worker deaths and serious injuries. Cal/OSHA says such injuries can be prevented by following confined space procedures. These include:

  • Identifying and labeling confined spaces;
  • Instituting and maintaining on-site emergency response plans; and
  • Providing training for workers and supervisors.

Common types of confined spaces include tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, storage bins, drain tunnels, and vaults.

Another incident involved a 55-year-old worker who became trapped in an oven and died at a food processing plant. He had entered the space to load carts of tuna cans. According to Cal/OSHA, the employer had not identified the ovens as a permit-required confined space and did not post danger signs or other ways to warn workers.

Other confined space fatalities have occurred in a recycling drainage tunnel in Lamont, a water tank in Napa, and a tank in Fullerton.

Cal/OSHA chief Ellen Widess said the agency is squarely focused on prevention. “We are using all tools available to us—enforcement, education, and outreach and media—to prevent more deaths and injuries,” she said.

Most common violations?

The 10 most frequently cited Cal/OSHA standards for fiscal year 2012 were:

  • Injury and illness prevention program;
  • Heat illness prevention;
  • Construction injury prevention program;
  • Clean, repair, service, and adjust prime movers, machinery, and equipment;
  • Hazard communication;
  • Reporting work fatalities or serious injuries;
  • Respiratory protection equipment;
  • Portable fire extinguishers;
  • Emergency eyewashes and showers; and
  • Permits to operate air tanks.
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