IR #98-14
Wednesday, April 8, 1998

Rick Rice
Dean Fryer
(415) 972-8835

Cal/OSHA Issues Citations for December 11, 1997 Fatal Explosion at Underground Storage Tank Re-Lining Operation in Upland

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has concluded its investigation into the December 11, 1997 explosion and flash fire that occurred during an underground storage tank re-lining operation at the Express Stop Shell Station in Upland, California. The accident took the life of one employee and caused second and third degree burns to 80% of the body of a second employee. Both were employed by Eagle Environmental, Inc., a firm that is regularly engaged in the re-lining of underground gasoline storage tanks.

"As a result of our investigation it was determined that failure to comply with numerous state standards designed to support safe confined space work operations contributed to the fatal explosion and flash fire," Cal/OSHA chief John Howard said. "Eagle Environmental, Inc. has been assessed civil penalties totaling $35,625 in conjunction with the issuance of 14 citations for serious violations, including seven serious violations related to the accident."

Eagle Environmental, Inc. was retained under contract by the General Contractor on the project, Gas-Tech, to schedule and perform the tank re-lining. Two other sub-contractors, Western Environmental Engineering Company (WEECO) and Able Environmental Service (ABLE), were working at the site conducting preparatory work for the tank re-lining, including the purging of flammable vapors from the tanks and triple rinsing of the tanks. Both ABLE and WEECO were also cited for violative conditions not directly related to the accident.

The re-lining of existing underground storage gas tanks in place was the option selected by Express Stop Shell to comply with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) requirements to replace or reline underground storage tanks by December 22, 1998. Four underground gasoline storage tanks at the Express Stop Shell were to be re-lined as part of the overall process.

At the time of the explosion, one Eagle Environmental, Inc. employee was inside the 6000 gallon tank using a high pressure spray gun to pressure wash sludge from the tank in preparation for tank re-lining, while a second Eagle employee provided stand-by support at the entrance outside the tank. In addition to Cal/OSHA, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, Upland City Fire Department, Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department and the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office responded to the scene.

A listing of the citations issued by Cal/OSHA for violations of various sections of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations follows. (The acronym UST designates underground storage tank.)

Eagle Environmental, Inc. $35,625 Total Assessed Civil Penalties

Cited Accident-Related Violations:

Cited Non-Accident-Related Violations:

Able Environmental Service $3000 Total Assessed Civil Penalties

Cited Non-Accident-Related Violations:

Western Environmental Engineering $875 Total Assessed Civil Penalties

Cited Non-Accident-Related Violation:

Cal/OSHA has also recently concluded its investigation into the explosion and flash fire that occurred at Tom's Sierra Chevron Station, Lincoln, CA, on December 5, 1997, resulting in very serious burn injuries to two employees engaged in testing an interior tank lining following tank re-lining work (See Press Release IR#98-15).

Concerning both accidents, Cal/OSHA chief John Howard said, "The confined space and related safety orders were designed to prevent employee injury, illness and death during work in confined spaces. The costly and tragic explosions and flash fires at Tom's Sierra Chevron in Lincoln and the Express Stop Shell Station in Upland could have been avoided if the sub-contractors had complied with the appropriate confined space and related safety orders."

Many local permitting agencies, such as County Health Departments and local fire departments, have ceased or delayed the issuing of additional permits for underground storage tank re-lining until the agencies have had an opportunity to review and assess the results of Cal/OSHA's investigation of the two serious accidents.

The citations were issued to Eagle Environmental, Inc., Western Environmental Engineering and to Able Environmental Service on April 6, 1998. The cited companies have 15 working days to appeal the citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board in Sacramento.

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