Take action to improve oil refinery safety for workers, clean air and clean water

WA State has a chance to prevent deadly incidents and reduce pollution at refineries
July 25, 2023

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It was supposed to be a routine maintenance restart of a heat exchanger at the Anacortes Tesoro oil refinery. 

At half past midnight one April day in 2010, the heat exchanger cracked open, shooting hydrogen and flammable oil byproducts into the air and causing a blast that locals felt miles away. The explosion fatally burned seven refinery workers. And the tragedy was completely preventable, according to a report from the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board. 

Now, thirteen years later, Washington state has a chance to improve oil refinery safety standards to protect workers, communities, air and water quality. The new safety rules will better protect the lives of workers, as well as prevent toxic releases and pollution from emergency flaring that can happen even in more minor incidents when processes go wrong at refineries.

Oil refinery safety is good for communities, workers *and* the Salish Sea

Safer oil refineries aren’t only vital for preventing deadly incidents — but also will reduce the more common non-fatal incidents of toxic exposures   and emergency flaring that releases toxic pollution above the usual limits. This is an opportunity to protect the air we breathe and the Salish Sea as well. 

Oil refineries are inherently risky places to work. Safety rules under consideration by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) would lower the risk of similar tragedies at the four refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties, while keeping preventable system failures from releasing toxic materials into the air and the Salish Sea. L&I is seeking public input on these rules, called Process Safety Management (PSM). 

What is Process Safety Management?

You’re probably already familiar with “occupational safety” — things like driving machinery correctly, setting up ladders safely, or wearing a support belt for heavy lifting. Process safety, on the other hand, refers to how safe processes are for handling dangerous chemicals. If a process isn’t safe, no matter how well a worker adheres to other precautions, there is still risk. That’s why after years of sustained advocacy from a worker-led coalition pushing for this rulemaking, we’re urging Labor & Industries to pass updated process safety rules.

Oil refinery safety hearings: Join us!

And at last, their draft PSM rule is out for public comment. There are four upcoming public hearings:

Join union refinery workers and environmental advocates in ensuring oil companies put the safety of their employees first!