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Fines for Fire That Killed 7 on Appeal

Friday, July 31, 2015

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A refinery is attempting to reverse the largest safety violations fine ever assessed by the State of Washington following a 2010 explosion that killed seven workers.

Tesoro Corp. appealed the $2.39 million in fines for 44 violations that the state’s Department of Labor & Industries found following that explosion at the company’s petroleum refinery in Anacortes, WA.

The safety agency has said that 39 of those violations are willful, while five are serious.

Battle Over Fines

The company insists that several of the infractions were actually minor and did not warrant the fine amounts, according to news reports.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of Tesoro employees,” said a company spokesman during the hearings, according to news station KING.

But some of the families whose loved ones died that day disagree.

“That’s a drop in the bucket for them,” said Shauna Gumbel, the mother of deceased Tesoro employee Matt Gumbel.

Gumbel told the TV station that not only did she lose her son that day, but that her husband—also a Tesoro employee who was working, but not injured seriously during the explosion—still suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Wikipedia/Walter Siegmund

The Tesoro petroleum refinery in Anacortes, WA, had a "catastrophic rupture" on April 2, 2010, that killed seven employees. The state assessed a $2.39 million fine, which the company is appealing.

“Because my husband was there and because he has had some other health issues, I feel like I not only lost my son, but I lost my husband, too,” said Gumbel.

In 2014, the families of the seven people who died split a $39 million settlement from the company, according to KING. However, no charges were filed.

L&I has said it stands behind its fines.

“The loss of seven lives was a needless tragedy for the families, the community and for our state,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, in a July 17 statement. “Prevention of catastrophic chemical incidents is of paramount importance, and we continue to work diligently to that goal.”

‘Catastrophic Rupture’

The explosion occurred on April 2, 2010. A report issued by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CBS) in 2014 determined that the refinery experienced a “catastrophic rupture of a heat exchanger in the Catalytic Reformer/Naphtha Hydrotreater unit” as a result of High Temperature Hydrogen Attack (HTHA).

Killed that day, in addition to 34-year-old Matt Gumbel, were Daniel J. Aldridge, 50; Matthew C. Bowen, 31; Darrin J. Hoines, 43; Kathryn Powell, 29; Donna Van Dreumel, 36; and Lew Janz, 41.

In its 160-page report, CBS listed recommendations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Washington legislature and governor; L&I; the American Petroleum Institute; Tesoro; and the United Steelworkers union to address a variety of issues that led to the explosion so that future failures, such as the one that occurred in Anacortes, don’t happen somewhere else.

The company released a statement shortly after CBS released its original draft of the report, according to KOMO.

“We respectfully disagree with several findings in the draft report and, most importantly, take exception to CSB’s inaccurate depiction of our process safety culture,” according to the statement.

In the Aftermath

Nevertheless, the investigating agencies have stood by their analysis that the explosion was preventable. And after the explosion, the State of Washington changed its law.

“Workers in the state are safer since the law was changed,” said L&I’s Soiza in reference to a 2011 state law that requires companies to correct hazards even if they appeal fines.

“Employers have to step up and fix serious hazards, even if they appeal the violations, rather than putting it off for months or years until the appeal is final.”

The appeal is being heard by an industrial appeals judge, who will issue a proposed decision, according to L&I’s statement. The Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals—a state agency independent from L&I—will review that decision and make a final order.

The hearings started July 21 and are scheduled to run periodically between now and Dec. 29.


Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Explosions; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; North America; OSHA; OSHA; U.S. Chemical Safety Board; Violations

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