New Regulations Aim to Improve Safety at Oil Refineries

August 14, 2017

State agencies in California recently announced final approval of new regulations to strengthen workplace and environmental safety at oil refineries across the state. The regulations take effect on October 1, 2017. 

The regulations implement key recommendations of the Governor’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety, created after the August 6, 2012, Chevron refinery fire. They are the result of a multi-year effort, including extensive public input and consultation with workers, industry, non-governmental organizations, local agencies, and communities.

Developed by the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), the regulations make California refineries safer for both workers and surrounding communities. 

“California now leads the nation in protecting the safety and health of refinery workers and people in nearby communities,” said David M. Lanier, Secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

The new regulations overhaul Cal/OSHA worker safety regulations as they apply to refineries and the California Accidental Release Prevention program (CalARP), which is designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances that could harm public health and the environment.

“These new regulations increase overall preparedness, provide greater accountability and implement a nation-leading approach to public safety and emergency prevention at refineries,” said California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci.

“The goal of these regulations is to hold refineries accountable for the safety of workers and communities,” said Matthew Rodriquez, California Secretary for Environmental Protection. “Thanks to input from refinery workers, industry leaders and environmental and community organizations, we can better anticipate problems and prevent accidents that might pose serious risks to the public and environment.”

Key features of the regulations include:

  • Increased employer accountability for the 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 and provisions for anonymous reporting of safety hazards
  • Requirements for investigations to determine root causes of any incidents that occur and develop interim and permanent corrective measures in response
  • Annual public reporting of refinery safety metrics under CalARP


California has 15 oil refineries, most of which are located in densely populated areas of Los Angeles and the eastern San Francisco Bay Area. During the past decade, many of these refineries have adopted some of the practices outlined above and have seen significant improvement in safety performance as a result.

However, the industry still experiences major incidents that pose a significant risk to refinery workers and nearby communities. For example, a February 2015 explosion at the Torrance refinery sent ash raining down on nearby communities and shut down most of the facility for more than a year. Unplanned incidents at refineries also cause disruptions to fuel supplies that are estimated to cost Californians an average of $800 million a year.

Following the 2012 Chevron refinery fire, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. called for an Interagency Working Group to examine ways to improve public and worker safety through enhanced oversight of refineries and strengthen emergency preparedness in anticipation of any future incident. The Working Group consisted of participants from 13 agencies and departments, as well as the Governor’s office.

Over an eight-month period, the Working Group met with multiple stakeholders, including representatives from industry, labor, communities, the environment, academia, and local emergency response. It also worked closely with the Contra Costa County Health Services Hazardous Materials Division, which implements an industrial safety ordinance that served as a model for the refinery safety regulations. In February 2014 the Working Group issued a final report with recommendations to improve safety practices at refineries and develop more reliable and effective emergency response plans. The regulations implement one of four key recommendations of the final report.

California now has an Interagency Refinery Task Force, headed by CalEPA with participation from DIR, its division Cal/OSHA, and 11 other federal, state, and local agencies and departments. The task force works collaboratively to achieve the highest possible level of safety for refinery workers and local communities, and prepare for and effectively respond to emergencies if they occur.

Nashville RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Nashville, TN, on September 12–14 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Pittsburgh RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Pittsburgh, PA, on September 12–14 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

San Francisco Hazardous Waste and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management in California and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in San Francisco, CA, on September 12–14 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Revisions to Radiation Exposure Limits

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has published a final rule to amend values listed in two appendices to its current occupational radiation protection regulation. The amendment to Appendix C corrects the air immersion derived air concentration value for any single radionuclide not listed in the Appendix C table with a decay mode other than alpha emission or spontaneous fission and with radioactive half- life less than two hours, adjusted for an 8-hour work day. The amendments to Appendix E correct the activity information of two radionuclides, Rh-102 and Rh-102m.

DOE has determined that the requirements in this rule are necessary to protect the health and safety of individuals from ionizing radiation resulting from the conduct of activities at DOE sites. In Appendix C, Derived Air Concentration (DAC) for Workers from External Exposure During Immersion in a Cloud of Airborne Radioactive Material, the amendment provides a correction to the derived air concentration value for any single radionuclide not listed in the Appendix C table with a decay mode other than alpha emission or spontaneous fission and with radioactive half-life less than two hours to 1E-06 [mu]Ci/mL (7E+04 Bq/m3).

In Appendix E, Values for Establishing Sealed Radioactive Source Accountability and Radioactive Material Posting and Labeling Requirements, the amendment corrects the activity for Rh-102 to 6.4E+05 mCi and the activity from Rh-102m to 3.0E+05 mCi.

This rule will go into effect on September 11, 2017.

Great White Construction Cited for Repeatedly Putting Worker Safety at Risk

OSHA has again cited a North Florida roofing contractor for failing to protect its workers from the risks of dangerous falls and other hazards at two St. Augustine, FL work sites.

On February 3, 2017, an OSHA inspector observed employees—without the use of proper fall protection—removing shingles and plywood sheeting from the roof of a multi-story residential structure in the city’s Crescent Beach area. Although the employees wore harnesses, they were not tied off to the rope grabs and roof anchors. After noticing other Great White employees working under similar conditions at a nearby site, a second inspection was initiated immediately as part of OSHA’s regional enforcement program for falls in construction. 

OSHA cited Great White Construction, Inc., based in Jacksonville, with 14 violations and proposed penalties totaling $1,523,710. Given the employer’s extensive prior history of violations and OSHA’s egregious citation policy, the agency issued 11 separate willful citations for failing to protect employees from fall hazards. OSHA also cited the company for three repeat violations for failing to ensure employees used eye protection while operating nail guns and for ladders used to access roof sites, again exposing employees to fall hazards.

“In the past five years, Great White Construction’s series of willful, serious, and repeat violations has demonstrated indifference towards the safety of their employees,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer. “The company allowed their employees to work without fall protection and made no reasonable effort to eliminate the hazard.”

As a result of these investigations and citations, Great White is now in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program due to high-gravity willful, egregious violations related to fall hazards.

OSHA has investigated Great White 12 times since 2012, and issued 22 citations related to improper fall protection, ladder safety, and eye protection.

Click here and here for the recent citations that OSHA issued to Great White.

Great White specializes in residential and commercial roofing. The company’s workforce consists of approximately 150 employees.

Vulcraft Focuses on the Value of Workplace Safety and Health

Vulcraft, a division of Nucor Corporation, in St. Joe, Indiana, achieved recertification as a STAR participant in the Indiana Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Participation in this elite state program represents commitment to Hoosier workers and proactive workplace safety and health practices.

“An accomplishment such as VPP participation requires cooperation from everyone within the company,” said Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner Rick J. Ruble. “Management and employees at Vulcraft continue to exhibit excellence in workplace safety and health. They’ve truly earned the ‘STAR’ title.”

Vulcraft, an employer of more than 300 employees, is a manufacturer of steel joists and deck, components used in non-residential building construction. The Indiana plant opened in 1972 and is currently one of Nucor’s ten joist and deck operations in the United States.

Vulcraft proudly proclaims a company-wide value in safety, making their employees and safe process of their products a priority. Thanks to management and employee commitment to this value, the facility has had a successfully low Total Case Incidence Rate (TCIR) of 2.3 per 100 workers, which is about 76% below the national industry average (6.1 per 100 workers.)

NuCon Corporation Again Recognized for Excellence in Workplace Safety and Health 

NuCon Corporation, a machine shop in Livonia, recently received renewed status as a Michigan Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (MSHARP) worksite from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). 

“I commend NuCon and its employees for their continued commitment to excellence in workplace accident and illness prevention,” said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. “MIOSHA is pleased to renew this special designation that recognizes NuCon for making the safety and health of its workers a top priority.”

MIOSHA established the MSHARP to acknowledge employers with outstanding workplace safety and health programs that far surpass their counterparts. The program targets small manufacturers to help them develop, implement and continuously improve the effectiveness of their workplace safety and health management system. The program also provides an incentive for employers to emphasize accident and illness prevention by anticipating problems, not reacting to them.

The MIOSHA Onsite Consultation Program within the Consultation Education and Training (CET) Division operates the MSHARP. Onsite consultants work with employers to help them become self-sufficient in managing occupational safety and health. MSHARP worksites earn an exemption from "programmed" MIOSHA inspections on a yearly basis.

NuCon has an excellent safety and health management system in place, which incorporates each of the seven required elements: hazard anticipation and detection; hazard prevention and control; planning and evaluation; administration and supervision; safety and health training; management leadership; and employee participation.

Two best practices that demonstrate NuCon’s above average safety and health management system are, a solid root cause analysis of incidents and injuries, and a good schedule for workplace safety and health audits. 

Founded in 1973, NuCon Corporation manufactures integrally bladed components for compressors, turbines, fan sections, pumps, etc., for products currently being used in applications from boat propellers to jet engine turbines. The company’s mission statement is: “Continuously improving safety and quality.”


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