Updated process safety management rules increase safety for petroleum workers

December 28, 2023

TUMWATER — Petroleum refineries can be hazardous places for workers. The dangerous and volatile chemicals they handle have led to tragedies like the Tesoro explosion that killed seven workers in 2010 and the Equilon incident in 1998 that killed six. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has filed a formal update to workplace safety rules designed to prevent catastrophic events like these from happening again.

The updated rules govern the way workplaces handle dangerous chemicals, what’s known as process safety management (PSM). The updates focus specifically on petroleum refineries.

“Refineries have to proactively eliminate and reduce risk—not just react,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “It has been decades since these rules were updated, and we know the capability of the industry to make these safety changes has improved during that time, so our rules needed to improve as well.”

The updated rules take effect Dec. 27, 2024, and include:

  • Performing reviews to identify the most effective ways to control a hazard;

  • Regular review for processes that are likely to damage or wear down equipment;

  • Planning and analysis that prioritizes risks according to the danger they create, and then identifies and documents effective safety measures; 
  • Incorporating consideration of human factors like staffing levels and turnover, training, fatigue, and task complexity;

  • Conducting root cause analyses after significant accidents;

  • Frequently analyzing hazards, safeguards and controls, mechanical factors, and process changes and updating safety programs accordingly; and

  • Assessing workplace safety culture so workers and managers prioritize safety, not production.

Full details of the rules are available on the L&I website.

L&I updated the rules with input from refinery operators, worker advocates, community advocates, and other stakeholders. L&I held four public hearings and accepted written comments for public input on the final rules. The result is one of the most protective in the country for refinery workers.

For media information:

Matt Ross, L&I Public Affairs, 360-706-4857

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