IR #99-14
Thursday, September 16, 1999

Dean Fryer
(415) 703-5050

Chevron cited for safety violations

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) today issued six citations to Chevron for alleged violations of state workplace safety regulations after investigating the March 25, 1999 explosion and fire in the North Isomax unit at the company's Richmond plant.

Six employees narrowly escaped injury while working at the site. The total amount of the penalties issued was $30,935.

"The Cal/OSHA investigation found that Chevron failed to perform appropriate checks and inspections to assure that equipment was installed consistently with manufacturer's instructions," said Cal/OSHA Chief John Howard. "Failure to use valves equipped with the manufacturer's required pressure relief device resulted in the release of petroleum product that ignited, endangering the lives of employees who were working in close proximity to the North Isomax unit."

Five of the alleged violations were classified as "serious," indicating the employer should have known there was a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition that existed. The serious violations carried penalties of $28,010.

The remaining citation, which includes three alleged violations, was classified as "general," a classification used when the violation found did not have a direct impact on the safety of the employee. This penalty totaled $2,925.

Specifically, Chevron failed to:

file a report with the Cal/OSHA chief within 15 days following the explosion ($900)
obtain a demolition permit prior to removing the damage to the North Isomax Unit ($1,125)
identify physical properties of hazardous substances on the Material Safety Data Sheet included in the clean-up plan ($900)
develop and maintain written safety information ($2,810)
communicate employer modifications to valve body pressure relief devices ($6,300)
identify a previous valve failure in the process hazard analysis ($6,300)
develop and implement a written procedure for safely depressurizing valves in liquid service prior to opening them ($6,300) and
perform appropriate checks and inspections to assure that equipment was installed consistently with manufacturer's instructions ($6,300).

The North Isomax unit of Chevron's Richmond refinery is a hydroprocessing unit using high pressure, high temperature catalytic cracking towers and distillation columns to process products such as jet fuel, liquid petroleum gas, gasoline and butane. The explosion and fire was confined to units of North Isomax, resulting in extensive damage to the main pipe way including relief headers, heat exchangers, pumps, electrical and instrumentation systems.

Failure to use manufacturer-recommended valves resulted in the release of a product stream with a temperature of 500-580F and a pressure of 800-1000 psig. Since this temperature is at or near the auto-ignition temperature for the product stream, a rapidly evolving vapor cloud ignited approximately 120-180 seconds after initial release. The ensuing fire ruptured an adjacent overhead pipe way, feeding hydrogen to the fire and increasing the size and heat of the flame.

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.

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