Disclosures on Safety at Oil Refineries Sought by Union

The United Steelworkers (USW) recently presented shareholder resolutions at Marathon Oil, Valero, Tesoro, and ConocoPhillips, calling on the companies to improve disclosures on safety at oil refineries.
According to information from the USW, the resolutions, filed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund, call on the board of directors at each company to disclose board oversight of process safety management, staffing levels, and the inspection and maintenance of refineries and other equipment. (WCxKit)
A similar proposal was also filed at Sunoco, but was withdrawn when company officials agreed to comply with the request. The Steelworkers say increasing transparency in the industry is an important step in improving refinery safety.
If these companies had to tell their shareholders and the public how they were staffing their refineries, how much overtime people were working, and how long units were going without basic inspection and maintenance, we know that they would try harder to fix the problems,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who heads the union's National Oil Bargaining Program. “We hope that by demanding this information we can force the industry to fix these problems before any more of our members die or are severely injured.”
Last year was a particularly deadly year in the oil sector. In the months of April and May alone there were 13 fires, 19 deaths, and 25 serious injuries in the oil industry. The Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caused 11 of the 19 deaths.
One of the most deadly accidents was the April 2 explosion at a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington leading to the deaths of seven workers. A 40-year-old heat exchanger blew apart along microscopic cracks in welded areas. Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) inspectors determined the company failed to correctly test the equipment for cracks. This was the worst industrial accident in the 37 years the L&I have been enforcing the state's workplace safety laws.
L&I Director Judy Shurke informed reporters at a press conference last year, “The bottom line is that this incident, this explosion, and these deaths were preventable.” Washington State Governor, Chris Gregoire added, “I believe this action L&I is announcing today (October 4, 2010) and the record fine ($2.39 million) they have assessed against Tesoro sends a clear message that these tragedies are not acceptable.” Tesoro is appealing the fine.
The reasons Tesoro received the record fine stems from the safety violations the L&I Inspectors uncovered in their investigation of the explosion killing the seven workers. Tesoro was cited for 44 safety violations – 39 “willful” violations and 5 “serious” violations of the Washington State workplace safety and health regulations. A “willful” violation is when the employer knowingly violates a rule and is plainly indifferent to correcting it. A “serious” violation is where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.
The L&I inspectors found that Tesoro had a wide variety of workplace safety violations and displayed a lack of concern for the safety of the employees. Some of the issues at Tesoro were:
1.      The continuing operation of failing equipment for years.
2.      Postponed maintenance.
3.      Inadequate testing for potentially catastrophic damage.
4.      Ineffective and inadequate repairs of equipment.
5.      The failure to ensure each employee was properly trained prior to operating a newly assigned process.
6.      The failure to follow “generally accepted good engineering practice” in inspecting and testing its reactor.
7.      The most egregious violation – the failure to select “personal protective equipment” – safety gear – for each of the employees. (The employees worked in hard hats, gloves, goggles and basic flame-resistance coveralls, which was inadequate protection for the environment in which they were working.)
The USW is asking for the shareholder resolutions in an effort to appeal to the Board of Directors to institute safety changes that protect the company's bottom line financial results while providing a safer workplace for the employees. The shareholder resolutions call for:
1.      Oversight of process safety management – for the people at the top level of the company to be directly involved in the safety process.
2.      Proper staffing levels – to know how much overtime people are working and what the risk of fatigue is.
3.      Inspection and maintenance of the refineries and other equipment – to know if there is a risk of a deadly explosion. (WCxKit)
The proper safety protocols will protect the employer from accidents and the resulting legal cost, reputation cost, and workers compensation cost. Safety is one of the best financial investments a company can make.

Author Rebecca Shafer
, JD, President of Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. See www.LowerWC.com for more information. Contact:RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com or 860-553-6604.

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
©2011 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. If you would like permission to reprint this material, contact Info@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

Read More

Request a Demo

To request a free demo of one of our products, please fill in this form. Our sales team will get back to you shortly.