SAN FRANCISCO -- The Division of Occupational Safety and Health has concluded its investigation into the explosion and flash fire at Tom's Sierra Chevron, in Lincoln, California that occurred inside an underground 10,000 gallon gasoline storage tank on December 5, 1997. The explosion and fire resulted in second and third degree burns to 70% of the body of a Semco Environmental Contractors employee and to 40% of the body of a Hake Consulting and Testing employee.
The two employees entered the underground storage tank to test the thickness and status of an interior lining that had been applied to the tank the day before. Prior to the tank entry by the two employees, no tests were conducted to assure that no dangerous flammable vapors remained in the tank. Unbeknownst to the two employees who entered the recently re-lined tank, flammable vapors had entered the tank through an unblocked vapor recovery line. The activation of the testing unit inside the tank produced an electric arc that ignited the flammable vapors.
"The Cal/OSHA investigation revealed that Semco Environmental Contractors and Hake Consulting and Testing failed to follow important safety procedures for work in confined spaces, such as underground storage tanks," said John Howard, Chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "As a result of significant violations of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, Semco Environmental Contractors has been assessed a total civil penalty of $49,750.00 in conjunction with the issuance of ten citations for serious violations, eight of which were related to the accident. For its part, Hake Consulting and Testing was assessed a civil penalty of $23,750.00 with issuance of seven Serious Citations, five of which were deemed to be related to the accident."
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.")
Semco Environmental Contractors
Accident-Related Violations ($48,000 Total Assessed Civil Penalty)
Other Confined Space Violations Not Related to Accident ($1,750.00 Total Assessed Civil Penalty)
Hake Consulting and Inspection
Accident-Related Violations ($22,500.00 Total Assessed Civil Penalty)
Other Confined Space Violations Not Related to the Accident ($1,250.00 Total Assessed Civil Penalty)
The citations were issued to Semco Environmental Contractors and Hake Consulting and Inspection 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.
The Division also recently concluded its investigation into the fatal explosion and flash fire that occurred at the Express Stop Shell Station, Upland, CA, on December 11, 1997, while employees were preparing an underground gasoline tank for re-lining, resulting in the death of one employee and very serious burn injures to another employee (See Press Release IR#98-14).
Summarizing Cal/OSHA's position with respect to 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 explosion and flash fires at Tom's Sierra Chevron in Lincoln and the Express Stop Shell Station in Upland could have been avoided, if the contractors involved had complied with the appropriate confined space and related safety orders."
A searchable copy of 8CCR, including Section 5158, may be accessed on the Internet from the web page of the Department of Industrial Relations. The Cal/OSHA Consultation Service provides occupational safety and health consultation support to employers upon request. Interested employers may call the Headquarters of the Cal/OSHA Consultation Service on (415)972-8515 for a referral to a local Area Office.