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Workers says Chevron ignored unchecked corrosion before 2011 facility fire

Workers says Chevron ignored unchecked corrosion before 2011 facility fire
Workers says Chevron ignored unchecked corrosion before 2011 facility fire

Advanced corrosion, which many believed that was the cause of the August fire that burned up a large chunk of Chevron's Richmond, California refinery, was also the reason for an earlier fire in 2011. This fire led many workers to send complaints to regulators that claimed Chevron was overlooking the corrosion problems, a new inspection has found.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, obtained state inspection documents show that the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigated the 2011 fire, which erupted during routine maintenance but did not spread far, and found that two workers allege corrosion had been crippling the refinery.

"We're afraid something is going to fall through the cracks," one worker told Cal/OSHA safety inspector Carla Fritz, who performed the investigation of the furnace piping found in the facility's lube oil processing unit.

"We're concerned about increased corrosion – we've increased temperatures and increased rates, and it takes a toll on the equipment," the worker added. Fritz's inspection notes reveal that the worker was the head operator of the lube oil plant, the most-senior member of all the plant's workers.

Fritz spoke with company managers at Chevron, who conceded that corrosion was indeed the culprit in the 2011 fire, and that the deteriorating conditions were unexpected, but that a later investigation showed that the system was operating normally. Fritz then asked if the first fire should have led the company to perform more assessments and maintenance projects elsewhere in the facility, to which the company responded that it had taken "the appropriate actions to protect the safety of its employees and facilities."

According to the news provider, Chevron recently announced that the August 2012 fire knocked the entire refinery out of commission for some time, and led to much lower capacity for the remainder of the year.

Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have developed guidelines for asset maintenance management programs that help ensure both the safety of workers and the environmental conditions of a facility. To reach OSHA and EPA compliance, facility managers should have a solid maintenance plan in place, and all data regarding past inspections. 

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