Regulators propose stricter safety rules for California refiners

California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) have proposed a series of heightened regulations aimed at strengthening workplace and environmental safety at the state’s oil refineries.

A result of multiyear state and federal efforts following the August 2012 chemical release and fire at Chevron Corp.’s 257,000-b/d Richmond, Calif., refinery, the regulatory proposals would enhance two existing complementary regulations by implementing new strategies recommended by California’s interagency working group on refinery safety for preventing major incidents at refineries and protecting plant workers, as well as surrounding communities, from exposure to health and safety risks, the agencies said (OGJ Online, Aug. 7, 2012; July 15, 2013).

The proposal specifically involves one set of revisions that would overhaul California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) worker safety regulations as they apply to process safety management (PSM) at refineries, with a second set of revisions intended to strengthen California Accidental Release Prevention program (CalARP) regulations that outline rules for preventing accidental releases of hazardous substances harmful to public health and the environment.

Developed jointly by DIR, Cal OES, and CalEPA in cooperation with refinery workers, community and environmental organizations, and industry leaders, the proposed regulations, if approved, would require California’s refineries to comply with the following key provisions:

• Increased employer accountability for mechanical integrity of refinery equipment.

• Requirements to adopt inherently safer designs and systems, to the greatest extent feasible.

• Increased employee involvement in all aspects of the safety and prevention program.

• Periodic workplace safety culture assessments to evaluate whether management is appropriately emphasizing safety over production pressures.

• Authority for refinery personnel to shut down a unit if needed in the event of an unsafe condition or emergency, as well as provisions for anonymous reporting of safety hazards.

• Requirements for investigations to determine root causes of any incidents that do occur, as well as development of interim and permanent corrective measures in response to those incidents.

• Annual public reporting of refinery safety metrics.

Federal nod

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which previously proposed its own heightened safety management regulatory framework for California refineries following its own investigation into the Chevron Richmond incident, hailed the regulatory proposal from state regulators (OGJ Online, Dec. 17, 2013; Apr. 15, 2013).

“The proposed amendments to the [PSM and CalARP programs] are significant improvements that will strengthen protections for workers, communities, and the environment based on lessons learned and best practices,” CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said.

“We look forward to seeing the final regulations implemented, and we hope that they prove to be a model for refinery worker protection and public safety for the rest of the country,” Sutherland added.

Cal OES and DIR’s Occupational Standards Board, which has provided a minimum of 45 days to solicit comment on the proposal, will hold a public hearing on the Cal/OSHA PSM regulation in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 15.

A public hearing on the proposed CalARP regulation has yet to be scheduled.

Contact Robert Brelsford at rbrelsford@ogjonline.com.

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