After Five-Year Effort, California Adopts the Nation’s Strongest Refinery Safety Regulations

A state board unanimously approved new refinery safety rules in California that will make a real difference for tens of thousands of California workers and residents.

Even as Trump Administration Works to Undercut Worker and Public Safety Rules, Cal/OSHA Finalizes Groundbreaking Refinery Safeguards

OAKLAND, Calif. (May 18, 2017) – The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board today unanimously approved groundbreaking safeguards for refineries, known as the Process Safety Management (PSM) regulations. Labor and environmental leaders—who began pushing for updated refinery safeguards after a massive fire at the Chevron Richmond refinery in 2012—lauded the new rules and showcased the state’s leadership on worker and public safety that will make the California’s refineries the safest in the nation.“Richmond could have been much worse—a lot of people could have died—and we took the lessons from that fire to heart in fighting for these new rules,” said Mike Smith, who has worked at the Chevron refinery for over a decade and serves as staff representative of United Steelworkers Local 5, which represents refinery workers in the Bay Area. “California will now start doing a much better job protecting refinery workers and the people who live around refineries. These rules are tough and comprehensive, and we’re going to make sure they’re enforced.”

The Chevron Richmond fire endangered the lives of 19 workers and caused an estimated 15,000 local residents to seek medical attention after inhaling smoke and toxic fire gases.

“Since the fire, we’ve been working with our partners to help draft rules that will require refineries to improve safety by investing in their infrastructure and operations,” said Nicole Marquez, staff attorney for Worksafe. “The Richmond fire served as a rallying point to bring us together and raise the profile of this effort, and to make sure these new standards were strong and enforceable.”

The coalition was instrumental in pushing for the new PSM regulations, efforts that were supported by calls from Governor Jerry Brown and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The state’s Department of Industrial Relations, led by Christine Baker, convened meetings with coalition members throughout the state and assembled a labor-management technical committee in developing today’s proposal.

The new regulations put forward by Baker’s team break new ground in ensuing that California’s refineries operate under modern, best-practice engineering and management practices. They are widely expected to play a key role in preventing the explosions, fires, and chemical releases that have plagued the industry, while also placing this critical industrial sector on a more stable, resilient footing. The 24-part rule includes provisions that give refinery workers a much stronger voice in ensuring plant safety.

“Giving workers clear authority to participate in process safety decision-making and to call attention to problems is a big part of why these updated rules will make California’s refineries the safest in the nation,” said Norm Rogers of United Steelworkers Local 675, representing refinery workers in the Los Angeles area. “We work with these processes every day, and we have a pretty good idea about what’s needed to make them safer. These rules give us a real voice and a much bigger role, which is something we’ve needed for decades.”

The group contrasted the action taken in California with efforts by Congress and the Trump administration to weaken or eliminate worker and public safeguards.

“In a sharp rebuke to Donald Trump’s actions, California is once again leading the country by increasing safeguards for workers, communities, and the environment, ” said Josh Sonnenfeld of the Sierra Club. “We’re proud to say that today’s action again shows that California isn’t backing down.”

“The bottom line is that California understands how strong public safety and health protections go hand-in-hand with a strong economy,” said Mike Wilson, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at the BlueGreen Alliance. “This regulation will make a real difference for tens of thousands of California workers and residents, and we commend Director Baker’s team and the Governor for their hard work in getting it across the finish line. California has produced a powerful new regulatory model that resets the bar for industrial safety, here and across the country.”