A new regulation in California aims to improve workplace safety and health at oil refineries across the state.

The state’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved the rule, which provides a standardized framework for anticipating, preventing and responding to hazards within the refinery sector.

“This is the most protective regulation in the nation for the safety and health of refinery workers and surrounding communities,” said Christine Baker, DIR director in a statement. “This new regulation will ensure California’s oil refineries are operated with the highest levels of safety possible and with injury and illness prevention in mind.”

The regulation will be enforced by the state-run Cal/OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) Unit. The unit is tasked with enforcing the state’s health and safety standards at refineries that handle large quantities of toxic and flammable materials.

The new rules are part of a package of complementary regulations intended to make California refineries safer for both workers and surrounding communities as well as strengthening the California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) program, which is designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances that could harm public health and the environment, according to Cal/OSHA.

In order to comply, refinery employers will need to:

  • conduct Damage Mechanism Reviews for processes that result in equipment or material degradation.
  • conduct a Hierarchy of Hazard Controls Analysis to encourage refinery management to implement the most effective safety measures when considering competing demands and costs when correcting hazards.
  • implement a human factors program, which requires analysis of human factors such as staffing levels, training and competency, fatigue and other effects of shift work and the human-machine interface.
  • develop, implement and maintain written procedures for the Management of Organizational Change to ensure that plant safety remains consistent during personnel changes.
  • utilize root cause analysis when investigating any incident that results in, or could have reasonably resulted in, a major incident.
  • perform and document a process hazard analysis of the effectiveness of safeguards that apply to particular processes and identify, evaluate and control hazards associated with each process.   
  • understand the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety and evaluate responses to reports of hazards by implementing and maintaining an effective process safety culture assessment program.

Now that California’s standards board has approved the regulation, which represents a comprehensive safety performance standard the industry sector, the state’s office of administrative law has 30 working days to review and approve it.

Cal/OSHA helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California. Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch provides free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their health and safety programs. Employers should call (800) 963-9424 for assistance from Cal/OSHA Consultation Services.

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