IR #99-09
Wednesday August 4, 1999

Dean Fryer
(415) 703-5050

Cal/OSHA Issues Highest Penalty In Its History Against Tosco

SAN FRANCISCO --The California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) today cited Tosco Refining Company for 33 alleged violations of state workplace safety regulations as a result of its investigation of the February 23, 1999 fatal fire at the company's Avon plant.

Four employees died and one employee was seriously injured in the accident. The total amount of the penalties issued was $810,750 and is the highest penalty amount ever issued against a single employer by Cal/OSHA. Cal/OSHA also has a concurrent criminal investigation underway through its Bureau of Investigation. The findings from that investigation, which focuses on possible criminal liability involved in the accident, will be given in a confidential report to the local district attorney's office for a determination as to whether criminal charges are applicable.

"The Cal/OSHA investigation found that Tosco failed to isolate the naptha piping from the operating process prior to conducting maintenance work that involved cutting into and removing a portion of the line," said Cal/OSHA Chief John Howard. "Failure to isolate the line and remove the contents allowed naptha to flow through the line onto the hot surfaces of the adjoining fractionator tower(.pdf format 39.2KB), and ignite, causing a fire that spread up and down the tower and engulfed the workers."

Sixteen of the alleged violations were classified as "willful," signifying that the employer committed an intentional and knowing violation or was aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no effort to eliminate it. The penalties for willful violations total $730,000. Thirteen of the alleged violations were classified as "serious," indicating there was a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition that existed of which the employer knew or could have known. The serious violations carried penalties of $76,000.

The remaining four citations were classified as "general," a classification used when the violation is not found to be serious but has a relationship to the safety of the employee. These penalties total $4,750. The Cal/OSHA investigation team coordinated on-site investigations with federal OSHA, the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Contra Costa County Department of Health Services.

California law provides that a company may appeal Cal/OSHA citations and penalties within 15 working days to the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board in Sacramento.

Copies of the citations and investigation summary(.pdf format 1.58MB), Timeline of Events, and Summary Cites can be found on the DIR Web site at

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