New: Chevron Gets Almost $1 Million in State Fines for "Serious, Willful" Worker Safety Violations

By Laura Dixon (BCN)
Wednesday January 30, 2013 - 10:24:00 PM

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has fined Chevron nearly $1 million for worker safety violations related to a massive Aug. 6, 2012, fire at the company's Richmond refinery. 

The $963,200 in fines are in the form of 25 citations issued against the oil giant, which a Chevron spokesman said the company plans to appeal. 

"Ensuring worker safety is the employer's responsibility," said Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA.  

"Refineries must take the steps needed to prevent incidents like the August Chevron fire," she said. "Failure to do so can pose great dangers to workers, surrounding communities and the environment." 

The proposed fines are the maximum allowed under state law and the highest fines levied in Cal/OSHA's history, according to division representatives. 

Cal/OSHA officials said the hefty fines are for 25 safety violations that occurred before, during and after a pipe in the Richmond refinery's crude oil unit ruptured and began leaking. That leaked sparked an explosion and fire that endangered workers and caused 15,000 people to seek medical treatment after inhaling emissions from the fire. 

"The fines fit the violations," said Peter Melton, a Cal/OSHA spokesman. 

According to Cal/OSHA, "Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire. Those recommendations dated back to 2002." 

In addition, Chevron failed to test pipe thickness in areas of the crude oil unit that were known to be vulnerable to corrosion due to the high temperature and high sulfur content of the crude oil sent through the pipes, according to division officials. 

Once the pipe leaked on Aug. 6, 2012, refinery managers didn't follow Chevron's own emergency shutdown procedures but instead kept the equipment running and told workers to remove the leaking pipe's insulation. 

Managers also ordered on-site contractors to erect scaffolding near the leaky pipe and let workers into the area without the proper protective gear, according to Cal/OSHA. 

The division's investigation found that this wasn't the first time Chevron had failed to properly address leaking pipes at the refinery. 

Cal/OSHA investigators found several pipe segments where someone had used a clamp to temporarily fix a leaky pipe. In some cases, refinery managers left the clamps in place for years, rather than replacing the pipes. 

Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said today, "Although we acknowledge that we failed to live up to our own expectations in this incident, we do not agree with several of the Cal/OSHA findings and its characterization of some of the alleged violations as 'willful'. Chevron intends to appeal," he said. 

The oil company has so far paid out $10 million to cover medical treatment and other costs incurred by hospitals and area residents due to the fire that spewed toxic smoke into the air for miles. Some 23,900 claims have been filed against Chevron in connection with the fire, according to company officials. 

Chevron announced Monday that it is focusing on tightening its safety procedures, from pipe inspection to employee training, to prevent another fire. 

Comey said today that the company is reviewing the citations issued by Cal/OSHA and is continuing to cooperate with additional local, state and federal investigations into the refinery fire.