State safety officials said last week that a limited investigation has been unable to substantiate allegations of sleeping on the job at Mobil Oil Corp.'s Torrance refinery.
Mobil spokesman Barry Engelberg said the announcement vindicates refinery officials, who had denied that there was a problem and had attacked the allegations as coming from a disgruntled former employee.
"It is exactly what we said," Engelberg said. "There is no sleeping on the job. . . . We're pleased."
Difficult to Substantiate
State safety officials conceded, however, that it would have been very difficult to substantiate the charges, which were made last month in several interviews given by former Mobil employee Bruce Lohmann, 34, of Long Beach.
Lohmann said he had frequently observed other employees asleep during work shifts, particularly during the night. He added that Mobil management rarely disciplined workers for sleeping at work. After disclosing his concerns to the press, he filed a complaint with state safety officials.
Despite the failure to substantiate Lohmann's allegations, Thomas S. Butler, district manager of state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said, "I have no reason to say that Mr. Lohmann . . . is a liar."
Short of an employee providing the agency with videotapes or pictures showing employees asleep on duty, Butler said, it was unlikely that investigators would ever be able to prove that it had occurred.
Butler cautioned that the agency, known as Cal/OSHA, was limited in its ability to investigate Lohmann's charges.
For one thing, he said, Cal/OSHA, which had conducted a surprise inspection during the day, made no attempt to stage one at night.
"It would have been logistically and legally extremely difficult," Butler said.
Refinery policy requires a Mobil safety representative, as well as a union representative, to accompany any Cal/OSHA inspector, who would have had to pass through the security gate, he said.
"There is nothing to prevent them from calling" to warn employees that an inspection is in progress, Butler said.
Butler added that he would have been surprised had Mobil employees who were interviewed admitted that they had slept on the job.
"We are not the secret police, that we can round up the usual suspects and take them to a back room and get the truth out of them," he said.
Lohmann said he was not surprised by the Cal/OSHA report.
"That is exactly what I would expect them to say," he said. "I think it is a difficult area for Cal/OSHA to investigate."
He added, nevertheless, that he believes that sleeping on the job "has decreased significantly at Mobil" as a result of his allegations.