OSHA Citations and Fines Dismissed in Refinery-Explosion CaseSeptember 1, 2017
A Washington State judge’s ruling clearly communicates that when a tragic accident occurs in the workplace, it does not necessarily mean that there’s been a violation of a process-safety management standard—the basis of willful citations.
Serving as an example is a case involving the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, WA, where a nearly 40-yr.-old heat exchanger ruptured in 2010, causing an explosion and fire that killed seven workers. Following summary judgment motions and trial proceedings in an OSHA citations appeal of 40 issued willful citations, five issued serious citations, and proposed fines of $2.39 million, the citations and penalties—the largest number ever issued in a single case in Washington State—were dismissed in their entirety by Mark Jaffe, assistant chief judge of the Washington Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.
Jaffe found that the Department of Labor & Industries, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), which issued the citations, failed to meet its burden of proof elements on any of the 45 citation items or on any of its proposed penalties:
“I have heard the testimony and reviewed the record and exhibits numerous times, and I have not found that the department, which has the burden of proof, has shown that Tesoro is responsible, based on the rules cited in the citation. I also must point out that the majority of the alleged violations did not directly relate to the explosion and fire. Some were related to the aftermath when Tesoro responded to the explosion, some with processes that had no effect on the equipment being defective and others for violations that apparently were found during the inspection.”