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By David McAfee
July 15 — The state of California July 14 announced a new proposal that would update regulations for refinery worker safety and the accidental release of hazardous substances.
The Department of Industrial Relations, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Environmental Protection Agency said they worked together to ensure the two complementary regulations are aligned.
The proposed rules will make California refineries safer for employees and surrounding communities, according to the state agencies.
“These regulations will make refineries safer neighbors and employers,” California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matt Rodriquez said in a July 14 statement. “Refinery workers, community and environmental organizations, and industry leaders worked with us to develop requirements that are practical and effective.”
The announcement comes almost four years after government officials began working on the new rules in the wake of a serious chemical release and fire at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond. One piece of the proposal overhauls the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health's worker safety regulations for refineries, while the other strengthens the California Accidental Release Prevention rules.
The government agencies say Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for the creation of an Interagency Working Group following the chemical release and fire at Chevron’s Richmond oil refinery in August 2012. The group, composed of participants from 13 agencies, departments and the governor’s office, was charged with examining ways to improve public and worker safety through strengthened refinery oversight.
State officials say major incidents at oil and gas refineries pose a “significant risk” to refinery workers and nearby communities and cost Californians an average of $800 million per year in fuel supply disruption.
“The proposed amendments to the California Process Safety Management program and Accidental Release Prevention program are significant improvements that will strengthen protections for workers, communities and the environment, based on lessons learned and best practices,” Vanessa Allen Sutherland, chairwoman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, 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.”
The proposed regulations include increased employer accountability for the mechanical integrity of equipment, requirements to adopt safer designs and systems, increased employee involvement in safety and prevention, and periodic assessments. The proposals would also give refinery personnel authority to shut down a unit if needed and require investigators to determine root causes of incidents, according to California.
The Office of Emergency Services and the Department of Industrial Relations' Occupational Standards Board will give 45 days for public comments on the proposed regulations. The public hearing for the Safety Management regulation is in Sacramento on September, while the hearing for the California Accidental Release Prevention regulation hasn’t been scheduled.
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