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USW hails Washington state’s proposed refinery safety rule

TUMWATER, Wash. (June 26, 2023) — The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is proposing updated workplace safety rules for petroleum refineries designed to prevent catastrophic events like the 2010 explosion that killed seven workers at the former Tesoro refinery in Anacortes. USW, the union that represents refinery workers, hailed the proposed rules as regulations “our union has been fighting to achieve for years.”

A federal investigation of the April 2, 2010, refinery explosion determined that Tesoro Refining failed to use safe equipment, had poor inspection procedures, and allowed its employees to regularly work in unnecessarily dangerous situations. Killed in the explosion were Daniel Aldridge, 50, of Anacortes; Matthew Bowen, 31, of Arlington; Darrin Hoines, 43, of Ferndale; Lew Janz, 41, of Anacortes; Kathryn Powell, 29, of Burlington; Donna Van Dreumel, 36, of Oak Harbor; and Matt Gumbel, 34, of Oak Harbor.

L&I’s proposed safety rule update addresses what’s known as Process Safety Management (PSM), which describes the way workplaces handle dangerous chemicals and ensures that processes, people, and equipment all work together to reduce risk. The proposal focuses specifically on petroleum refineries.

“Washington’s PSM rule has not been updated in almost 30 years. Processes and technology in the industry have advanced—the rules to protect workers should, too,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). “The proposed rule will improve safety at the five refineries in our state by making sure they’re eliminating and reducing risk—not just reacting to it.”

L&I developed the proposed rule with input from refinery operators, worker advocates, community advocates, and other stakeholders. The proposed rule largely aligns with California’s refinery PSM rule, the most protective in the country.

Tesoro workers and their families rallying for improved refinery safety in 2012.

USW welcomed L&I’s proposed rule as good news for refinery workers and their families.

“The proposed rule is what our union has been fighting to achieve for years,” said Gaylan Prescott, USW District 12 Director. “Tragedy after tragedy demanded union advocacy, and frankly, our members’ intervention in the regulatory environment both challenged and was constrained by some of the most powerful corporations in the world.”

Prescott said the USW’s PSM work was started in California following disasters there, and migrated to Washington shortly after.

Steve Garey and Kim Nibarger, former presidents of USW Local 591, spearheaded the early PSM campaign in Washington, with current Local 591 President Scott Campbell continuing the efforts to this day. Along the way, valuable assistance was provided by countless USW oil workers and other advocates — including numerous other unions, environmental organizations, the Blue-Green Alliance, and USW National Oil Bargaining Program Chair Mike Smith, who helped lead the California PSM update.

USW District 12 plans to bring seasoned PSM advocates — USW oil refinery workers — to Washington state to help describe the important PSM work that has gone on there.

The refinery in Anacortes is now operated by Marathon Petroleum.

The proposed new requirements include:

  • Performing reviews to identify the most effective ways to control a hazard;
  • Incorporating consideration of human factors like staffing levels and turnover, training, fatigue, and task complexity;
  • Conducting root cause analyses after significant accidents;
  • Frequently analyzing hazards, safeguards and controls, mechanical factors, and process changes and updating safety programs accordingly; and
  • Assessing workplace safety culture so workers and managers prioritize safety, not production.

Full details of the proposed rule are available on the L&I website.

The filing of the proposed rule officially kicks off the formal process for public input. Hearings are scheduled for Aug. 10 and 17 in Bellingham, near most of the state’s refineries, with a virtual hearing to be held on Aug.15.

L&I expects to have the updated PSM rule in place by the end of the year.

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