United Public Workers for Action

Cal-OSHA Mandated to take effective criminal action
to immediately remediate
the Richmond refinery multiple safety hazards

by Dr. Larry Rose

A dramatic informative community meeting occurred in Richmond on February 27,2013 that focused on the causes and prevention of the catastrophic Richmond refinery pipe leak, fire, and explosion and the immediate health effects as well as the health effects of previous ongoing exposures.This particular explosion/fire was a tragic event that was based on Chevron's management deception and malfeasance.

The meeting's participating labor and environmental groups were: The Blue Green Alliance, The Steelworker's Union, The Labor Occupational Health Program at U.C. Berkley CA., The Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. This collaborative will soon be named The Collaborative on Refinery Safety and Community Health.The information that emerged from the meeting documented the disregard that management of this refinery showed for the health and safety of the plant employees and the surrounding communities.

The Cal-OSHA investigation and penalties

The Cal-OSHA compliance inspection's final report was announced on January 30, 2013, six months after the event, stating that Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ruptured and caused the fire.Those pipe replacement recommendations dated back to 2002.

The initial leak caused a pressurized spewing out of a hot gaseous fume mist cloud that went on for two hours and employees were ordered to repair the pipe by removing the insulation and were not wearing adequate personal protection or respirators (a self contained air supplied breathing respirator).

The gaseous cloud ignited forming a black mushrooming cloud that spread over 5000 feet into the atmosphere. Therefore Chevron did not follow its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was discovered and did not protect its employees.

The outcome of the investigation were twenty three violations issued as "serious" and eleven of these were also classified as "willful" because Chevron did not take responsible actions to eliminate the conditions that it knew posed hazards to employees. It was found that Chevron elected to repair over one thousand plant pipe leaks with temporary clamps in this refinery rather than replacing these corroding pipes, and in some cases these clamps remained in place for years.

The background as to why Cal-OSHA did not do previous on site systematic inspections at the Richmond refinery despite several spill and fire incidents over the previous years, goes to the extreme understaffing of the agency's statewide enforcement/compliance officers, and the steady moving toward voluntary compliance of state safety standards primarily for the state's large corporations.

If Cal-OSHA had what the International Labor Organization (UN) recommended there would be nine times as many compliance inspectors. Now an approximate total of one hundred and eighty seven functioning inspectors exists for the eighteen million California workers, ( a ratio of one inspector to ninety two thousand workers). If Cal-OSHA had the same ratio of inspectors to workers as Oregon and Washington, two other state OSHA programs, there would be four times the total number of existing statewide inspectors.

This lack of an adequate number of inspectors has in fact profoundly effected the prevention of workplace injuries and illness in California. In addition many large corporations have been granted a "Voluntary Protection Program" status (no programed inspections). A similar status was granted to Chevron that is called a variance that allowed them to do computer "risk based inspections" instead of physical inspections of pipes and tanks.

The health effects of the airborne fire emissions

Twenty workers inhale the toxic fumes and combustions products from the leaking pipes. Five employees experienced some health effects. Fifteen thousand community residents went to surrounding hospitals with acute health reaction symptoms.

The gaseous releases consisted of volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carcinogens such as benzene, xylene, and toluene), heavy metals, nitrogen oxides, ozone, combustion products, and various sized respiratory particulates.

The immediate acute health reactions are mainly acute conjunctivitis (eye irritation), acute upper and lower pulmonary reactions (severe asthma and coughing) , acute bronchitis, acute sinusitis. The immediate respiratory reactions often lead to a problem called "reactive airway disease syndrome" that occurs when susceptible individuals are exposed to high concentrations of respiratory irritants subsequently become much more reactive to daily ambient airborne respiratory irritants and have more frequent respiratory crisis.

The long term effects of inhaling these emissions are an increased risk for cancer, pulmonary damage, cardiorespiratory problems, immune dysfunction, reproductive and developmental problems, and endocrine disruption.

Therefore the overall health effects, particularly in susceptible segments of the general population, are not just immediate and inconsequential.

Cal-OSHA mandated criminal inspections

The maximum fine issued by Cal-OSHA to Chevron was about one million dollars. This amounts to chump change for this refinery that turns out thirty four million dollars of product per day. Chevron is legally appealing all of these citations. The appeal process can take up to four years. During this appeal process Chevron does not have to remedy any of the causes of the citations issued that were directly related to the catastrophic explosive August 6, 2013 fire. Whether or not Chevron has proceeded to do an effective remediation to this date is unknown.

Under Article 10, section 344.51 "Criminal Investigations", it is stated "the central function of the Bureau of Investigations, within the Division of Occupational Safety and Health is to conduct criminal investigations. The Bureau must investigate accidents involving violations of a standard order, or section 25910 of the Health and Safety Code in which there is a serious injury to five or more employees, death, or request for prosecution by a division representative.

The Bureau most analyze the circumstances surrounding the violation to determine whether the conduct is sufficiently aggravated to fall within the scope of Labor Code sections 6423,6425, and other penal statutes. NOTE: Authority cited: sections 6308, 6314, 6315, Kabir Code. Reference: section 6315 and 6314 CALIFORNIA LABOR CODE.

Conclusion and Comment

In this instance, Chevron has demonstrated extreme corporate irresponsibility regarding the health and safety of it employees and the community members. During the two to four year period of Chevron's legal appeal of the serious, and willful serious Cal-OSHA citations, they are not required to remediate any of the many multiple hazardous defects in their process safety health and safety plant managed program.

The only way these multiple safety hazards will be immediately fixed will be if criminal charges are brought by Cal-OSHA against the responsible upper management individuals, and through a legally binding agreement based in the courts criminal findings management will be ordered to immediately remediate all of the serious hazards that could cause future similar plant process failures.


(The author is Larry Rose M.D., M.P.H., Occupational/Environmental Medicine, and retired as the Chief of the Cal-OSHA Medical Unit)  



Chapter 3.2. California Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (CAL/OSHA) 

Subchapter 2. Regulations of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health 

Article 10. Civil and Criminal Enforcement Policy of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health

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§344.51. Criminal Investigations.

The central function of the Bureau of Investigations, within the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, is to conduct criminal investigations. The Bureau must investigate accidents involving violations of a standard, order, or special order, or section 25910 of the Health and Safety Code in which there is a serious injury to five or more employees, death, or request for prosecution by a Division representative. The Bureau of Investigations is the only entity within the Division, which is empowered to conduct criminal investigations and to refer the results of such investigations when appropriate to a city attorney or district attorney for necessary action. The Bureau must analyze the circumstances surrounding the violation to determine whether the conduct is sufficiently aggravated to fall within the scope of Labor Code sections 6423, 6425 and other penal statutes.

NOTE: Authority cited: Sections 6308, 6314 and 6315, Labor Code. Reference: Sections 6315 and 6314, Labor Code.


1. Editorial correction of Health and Safety section cited in text (Register 91, No. 23).

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