BIGGE CRANE & RIGGING CO.
ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION INTO THE
TOSCO REFINERY 50 UNIT FIRE OF 02/23/99
SUMMARY

 

On February 23, 1999, a fire in a crude oil processing unit at Tosco Refining Company’s SFAR-Avon Refinery resulted in four worker fatalities and one serious injury.  The incident was investigated by Tosco, its on-site union, the Paper Allied Industrial Chemical & Energy Workers (P.A.C.E.) and various state and federal agencies:  The Division of Occupational Safety & Health (DOSH/Cal OSHA), Bureau of Investigations (BOI), federal OSHA, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS), United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).  One of the decedents was an employee of Bigge Crane and Rigging Company, and his company conducted its own accident investigation. 

 

Cal OSHA performed an opening conference with Bigge Crane and Rigging the day of the incident in order to initiate a formal investigation.  Cal OSHA requested, received, and reviewed various documents to evaluate employer’s compliance with pertinent Title 8 regulations.  These included training, general safe practices, and implementation of the employer’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program at the client’s worksite.  Interviews were conducted with Bigge Crane and Rigging employees who had been present onsite at the time of the accident, and during the emergency response effort.

 

Incident Summary

 

On 02/23/99, a fire occurred at the fractionator tower in the 50 crude oil processing unit at the Tosco “Avon” refinery in Martinez, California.  Both refinery employees and contractor employees were engaged in a maintenance activity to remove and eventually replace the naphtha draw piping in which a leak had been detected on 02/10/99.  Subsequent inspection of the entire line revealed it to be significantly corroded, and Tosco decided to replace the entire pipeline.

 

Tosco decided that it was safe to effect the repair while the process unit remained in operation.  Tosco failed to isolate the naphtha piping from the operating process prior to cutting into and removing a portion of the line.  Failure to isolate the line or to empty its contents allowed naphtha ( a highly flammable, gasoline-like benzene-containing hydrocarbon) to flow through openings in the line and onto hot surfaces in the operating unit.  The naphtha ignited, causing a fire near the bottom of the tower, which then spread up and down the tower, engulfing the four workers.  Tosco emergency response personnel extinguished the fire in 20 minutes.

 

Tosco decided that it was safe to effect the repair while the process unit remained in operation.  Tosco failed to isolate the naphtha piping from the operating process prior to cutting into and removing a portion of the line.  Failure to isolate the line or to empty its contents allowed naphtha ( a highly flammable, gasoline-like benzene-containing hydrocarbon) to flow through openings in the line and onto hot surfaces in the operating unit.  The naphtha ignited, causing a fire near the bottom of the tower, which then spread up and down the tower, engulfing the four workers.  Tosco emergency response personnel extinguished the fire in 20 minutes.

 

Bigge Crane and Rigging was hired by Tosco to provide crane and rigging services for the removal and replacement of the naphtha piping.  These services included having its foreman on the permanent and temporary platforms at the fractionator tower to rig the piping while the pipeline was being cut into, then wait to “fly” the pipe sections down to the ground once cut.  The deceased foreman was present at the fractionator tower during both the first and second cuts into the naphtha draw line, and was present when the second cut began to leak.  He was unable to escape when the leaking naphtha ignited, and died of his burn injuries in the hospital two days later.

 

Although Tosco was determined to be directly responsible for the fire and ensuing tragedy, Bigge Crane and Rigging Co. was found to be in violation of Cal OSHA regulations, violations which contributed to creating an unsafe work environment.

 

Bigge Crane and Rigging Company was issued three citations alleging violations of the California Code of Regulations, Title 8.  Citations were classified as follows:  1 General citation; 2 Serious citations.  The total monetary penalty was $10,780.00.

 

A summary of the citations follows.

 

Summary of Citations

 

Citation 1, Item 1

 

Regulation:                  5218(e)(2)(A)

Description:                Failure to perform initial benzene exposure monitoring

Classification:             General

Penalty:                       $165.00

 

Citation 2

 

Regulation:                  1509(a)

Description:                Failure to implement Injury & Illness Prevention Program

Classification:             Serious

Penalty:                       $5,250.00

 

Citation 3

 

Regulation:                  1510(c)

Description:                Failure to instruct employees in recognition and protection from hazards

Classification:             Serious

Penalty:                       $5,250.00

 

TOTAL:                      $10,780.00