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Release Number: 2022-42
Date: May 19, 2022

Cal/OSHA Cites Four Employers $1.75 Million for Safety Violations in Death of Worker at Valero Refinery

Concord—The Cal/OSHA Process Safety Management Unit has cited Valero Refinery of Benicia and three contractors a combined $1,753,375 for serious safety violations following a confined space death of a 35-year-old worker who suffocated in a regenerator overflow well. Cal/OSHA inspectors cited three of the four employers with willful and serious violations after determining that they failed to follow confined space guidelines, including the failure to determine acceptable entry conditions for the employee, which resulted in exposure to an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.

Shortly before midnight on November 12, 2021, the worker lost consciousness after descending into a regenerator overflow well at the Benicia refinery to evaluate the condition of the well interior and perform cleaning operations in advance of a welding crew. He was found inside the regenerator suspended by fall protection equipment. A refinery emergency rescue team retrieved him. Benicia Fire Department and Valero Refinery Fire Department performed medical treatment on-site but were unable to resuscitate him.

Inspectors determined that a welding torch was left in the well that was leaking argon, an odorless gas that displaced oxygen inside the confined space.

“Working in confined spaces is extremely dangerous, as is working with argon,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip. “The employers involved had a responsibility to keep their workers safe. The first step to preventing a completely avoidable fatality is to identify hazards before a worker enters a confined space.”

Confined space hazards exist in many workplaces. Employers must identify and label confined spaces, establish and maintain onsite emergency response plans, and provide training for workers and supervisors. Common types of confined spaces include tanks, silos, pipelines, sewers, storage bins, drain tunnels and vaults.

Employer Name Industry Worksite Location Proposed
Valero Refinery Petroleum Refinery Willful Serious: 4
Serious: 5
Total Safety Specialty Trade Contractor Willful Serious: 6
Serious: 7
General: 4
JT. Thorpe & Son, Inc. Masonry Contractor Willful Serious: 1
Serious: 1
Regulatory: 4
T.R.S.C., Inc. Other Foundation, Structure, and
Building Exterior Contractor
Serious: 8
General: 3
Regulatory: 5

Among the violations were failure to: evaluate the workplace to determine if any spaces are permit-required confined spaces, ensure employees use equipment and safety precautions during the rescue of an employee, and monitor unauthorized entrants into workspaces.

A willful violation is cited when evidence shows the employer either knowingly violated the law or took no reasonable steps to address a known hazard. A serious violation is cited where there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. A general violation is cited when an accident or occupational illness resulting from violation of a standard would probably not cause death or serious physical harm but has a direct or immediate relationship to the safety or health of employees. A regulatory violation is cited when an employer fails to comply with recordkeeping, posting or permit requirements.

Cal/OSHA has extensive informational materials on its website, including a confined space guide for general industry to help employers provide safe workplaces and ensure workers know these hazards.

Cal/OSHA helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California. Employers who have questions or need assistance with workplace health and safety programs can call Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch at 800-963-9424.
Workers who have questions about workplace safety concerns can call 833-579-0927 to speak with a Cal/OSHA representative during normal business hours. Complaints about workplace safety and health hazards can be filed confidentially with Cal/OSHA district offices.

Media Contact: Communications@dir.ca.gov, (510) 286-1161
Employers with Questions on Requirements May Contact: InfoCons@dir.ca.gov or call your local Cal/OSHA Consultation Office