USW blasts Tesoro over lack of refinery safety

The United Steelworkers (USW) has demanded that Tesoro Corp. develop a comprehensive, cohesive safety program after a sulfuric acid release at the alkylation unit of its 161,000-b/d Golden Eagle refinery near Martinez, Calif., in early February seriously injured two workers.

“Tesoro management trivialized the extent of the workers’ injuries to establish jurisdictional defense specifically to avoid the scrutiny of US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and other agencies,” USW Vice-Pres. Gary Beevers said in a Feb. 24 release.

USW also applauded the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) for prohibiting Tesoro from restarting Golden Eagle’s alkylation unit following the Feb. 12 incident until management meets certain conditions.

According to USW, refinery operators told Cal/OSHA investigators that they were afraid to operate the alkylation unit at the Martinez refinery and signed “green sheets” with the notation “signed under duress” for procedure changes.

Operators also informed investigators assigned to the case that Tesoro failed to conduct required management of organizational changes when they decided to reduce staffing for start-up and shutdown of the alkylation unit, USW said.

“While the company continues to grow and its market share expands, Tesoro’s corporate culture of safety has steadily diminished,” Beevers said, noting that the refiner has withdrawn from USW’s Triangle of Prevention program—which supports incident investigations—and stopped its quest for inclusion in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program.

The union went on to criticize Tesoro for disputing a CSB report that cited deficient corporate-wide management culture of safety as a contributor to an explosion that killed seven workers in April 2010 at its Anacortes, Wash., refinery (OGJ Online, Apr. 5, 2010).

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