California Employers Cited $1.75M in Refinery Worker Death

California Employers Cited $1.75M in Refinery Worker Death

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The Cal/OSHA Process Safety Management Unit cited Valero Refinery of Benicia and three contractors a combined $1.75 million for serious safety violations following a confined space death of a 35-year-old worker who suffocated in a regenerator overflow well.

Cal/OSHA inspectors cited three of the four employers with willful and serious violations after determining that they failed to follow confined space guidelines, including the failure to determine acceptable entry conditions for the employee, which reportedly resulted in exposure to an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.

Shortly before midnight on Nov. 12, 2021, the worker lost consciousness after descending into a regenerator overflow well at the Benicia refinery to evaluate the condition of the well interior and perform cleaning operations in advance of a welding crew. He was found inside the regenerator suspended by fall protection equipment. A refinery emergency rescue team retrieved him. Benicia Fire Department and Valero Refinery Fire Department performed medical treatment on-site but were unable to resuscitate him.

Inspectors determined that a welding torch was left in the well that was leaking argon, an odorless gas that displaced oxygen inside the confined space.

Employers are required to identify and label confined spaces, establish and maintain onsite emergency response plans, and provide training for workers and supervisors. Common types of confined spaces include tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, storage bins, drain tunnels and vaults.

Among the violations were failure to evaluate the workplace to determine if any spaces are permit-required confined spaces, ensure employees use equipment and safety precautions during the rescue of an employee, and monitor unauthorized entrants into workspaces.

A willful violation is cited when evidence shows the employer either knowingly violated the law or took no reasonable steps to address a known hazard. A serious violation is cited where there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. A general violation is cited when an accident or occupational illness resulting from violation of a standard would probably not cause death or serious physical harm but has a direct or immediate relationship to the safety or health of employees. A regulatory violation is cited when an employer fails to comply with recordkeeping, posting or permit requirements.

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