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October 24, 2011
Refinery Fire Draws Attention to Deficits in Procedures and Testing; Do You Know What the PSM Rules Require?

Two contractors were performing pipe-breaking work at the Evergreen Oil refinery in Newark on March 29 when a section of the pipe burst. The de-gassed oil released from the pipe ignited, melting a nearby tank and causing a hydrochloric acid release that injured one worker and started a two-alarm fire. Cal/OSHA cited the refinery for nine violations of General Industry Safety Orders (GISO) Section 5189, which is the process safety management (PSM) standard, and three of the violations were classified as serious.

According to Cal/OSHA, Evergreen dropped the ball on process safety in several common areas. The citations serve as valuable reminders of some of the critical requirements of the PSM standard.

Practice Tip

Employers must comply with the process safety management standard if they use any chemicals listed in Appendix A of GISO Section 5189 at or above the threshold quantity listed. You can find the list here.

Written Operating Procedures

Evergreen was cited for a serious violation of GISO Section 5189(f)(1), which requires employers to have written operating procedures that address, at a minimum:

  • steps for each operating phase, including initial start-up operations, normal operation, temporary operations, emergency operations (including emergency shutdowns), normal shutdowns, and start-up operations following a turnaround or after an emergency shutdown

  • operating limits, including the consequences of deviation, steps required to correct and/or avoid deviation, and safety systems and their functions

  • safety and health considerations, including the properties of, and hazards presented by, the chemicals used in the process; precautions necessary to prevent exposure; control measures to be taken if exposure occurs; safety procedures for opening process equipment (such as pipe-breaking); verification of raw materials and control of hazardous chemical inventory levels; and any special or unique hazards

Equipment Inspections And Testing

Cal/OSHA also cited Evergreen for failing to inspect and test process equipment with sufficient frequency, a serious violation of GISO Section 5189 (j)(2)(C). In addition, the employer failed to correct a deficiency in process equipment that fell outside acceptable limits, a serious violation of GISO Section 5189(j)(3), and to inspect and test process piping, a general violation of GISO Section 5189(j)(3).

Paragraph (j) of the PSM standard addresses the mechanical integrity of processes involving hazardous chemicals. It requires employers to ensure mechanical integrity through the use of:

  • Written procedures, including a method for allowing employees to identify and report potentially faulty or unsafe equipment. The employer must respond to such reports in a timely manner.

  • Inspection and testing, which must follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices and occur at least as frequently as the manufacturer's recommendations suggest. Employers must document the dates of these inspections and tests; the name of the person who performed the inspection and test; and the serial number or other identifier of the equipment.

  • Deficiencies identified must be corrected either before the equipment is used again or before it becomes unsafe to operate.
  • Quality assurance. For both new and modified, repaired, or fabricated equipment, employers must ensure that the equipment is suitable for its intended use. Employers must also make sure that equipment is installed properly and maintained using materials, spare parts, and equipment that meet design specifications and applicable codes.

Training and Employee Competency

Evergreen received three general citations under GISO Sections 5189(g) and (h) for failing to provide training and ensure worker competency. Paragraph (g) requires employers to train all workers involved in operating or maintaining a process covered by the standard, and to ensure through testing that workers are competent. Paragraph (h) requires employers to train contractors who work on or near processes covered by the standard to the same level of competence required for its own employees and to train contractors in their emergency action plans.

Safety Information

Cal/OSHA issued two general citations under GISO Sections 5189(d)(1) and (2) for Evergreen's failure to maintain sufficient safety information on its own process. Paragraph (d) requires employers to develop and maintain safety information related to its covered processes, including:

  • information about the hazards of the acutely hazardous and flammable chemicals used in the process

  • information about the technology of the process, including flow diagrams, process chemistry, and the consequences of deviations from "normal" operating parameters

  • information about the equipment in the process, including the design and construction of the process, and any safety systems built into the process
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