The Labor Department said Tuesday that it would fine Chevron U.S.A. Inc. $877,000 for 114 alleged safety violations in connection with an April fire at the company's Richmond, Calif., refinery that seriously burned three workers.
The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleged that Chevron knew or should have known of safety hazards, including a need for fire-resistant or protective clothing but did nothing to correct them.
"The great tragedy of these injuries is that they were avoidable," said Labor Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole in a prepared statement.
2nd Largest Assessed
Chevron, which has 15 days to appeal the proposed penalties, denied the allegations and said it would vigorously contest them. "We are dismayed by OSHA's misleading and inaccurate explanation of the alleged violations," said Chevron U.S.A. President Will Price in a prepared statement.
The fines would be the second largest assessed against an employer in California by OSHA since July, 1987, when the agency assumed duties previously performed by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Christopher Lee, OSHA's acting regional administrator.
The largest fine in that period was $1.49 million assessed against Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co. in Burbank for record-keeping and other violations, Lee said.
"It's a vindication," said Jeffrey Dodge, field representative for Local 1-5 of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union, which represents about 850 Chevron workers at Richmond. OSHA said that individual employees and union representatives have been seeking protective clothing and equipment for years.
The Chevron fire started April 10, when a pipe carrying pressurized hydrogen gas burst a seam. The resulting fire and explosion weakened a 100-foot-tall reactor, which collapsed and engulfed four workers in flames. Three, who were wearing no fire-resistant clothing, suffered second- and third-degree burns on up to 70% of their bodies, OSHA found in its subsequent investigation of the accident.
The fourth employee, who was wearing fire-resistant clothing, suffered only minor burns on his face, OSHA said. Five other employees suffered less serious injuries, OSHA reported.
OSHA is citing Chevron with 109 "willful violations"--one for each of 109 employees who were expected to fight fires or assist in fighting fires but who did not receive protective clothing, the agency said.
Penalties for those violations amount to $872,000. OSHA defined a willful violation as one in which an employer knew of a hazard but made no reasonable effort to correct it.
In addition, OSHA is citing Chevron with five "serious violations," each carrying a penalty of $1,000. They include failing to provide fire-resistant coveralls to refinery personnel. The agency defined a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious injury could result from a condition, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
Chevron disputed the need to provide fire protective clothing to employees, although a spokesman admitted the company has changed its policy to provide fire resistant coveralls to some refinery personnel.
The refinery has resumed production at its normal level of 265,000 barrels a day, though the damaged equipment remains out of service, said Chevron spokesman Mike Libbey.