State says Tesoro 'willfully violated' safety rules, which led to fatal explosion

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by JAKE WHITTENBERG / KING5 News and Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on October 4, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 4 at 5:29 PM

TUMWATER, Wash. -  The Washington Department of Labor and Industries says the explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes that killed seven workers last April could have been prevented.

After a six-month investigation into the explosion, the state says Tesoro failed to check for cracks in the 40-year-old equipment involved in an explosion. The agency also says Tesoro disregarded workplace safety rules, postponed maintainance and failed to adequately protect its workers.

L & I is charging Tesoro Corp. with 39 “willful violations” and five “serious violations” of state workplace safety rules and health regulations. A “willful violation” is one in which “the employer knowingly violates a rule and is indifferent” to correct it.

It issued a record $2.38 million fine against the company.

"This explosion and the deaths of these men and women would never have occurred had Tesoro tested their equipment in a manner consistent with standard industry practices, their own policies and state regulations," Labor and Industries Director Judy Schurke said in a statement.

The blast occurred as employees were doing maintenance on a unit that processes naphtha, a highly flammable chemical used to make finished petroleum products. The unit was being returned to service, a process that experts said is especially dangerous because the liquid is being heated to high temperatures at great pressure.

State officials said Monday that one of the heat exchangers split violently, releasing hydrocarbon vapor that ignited almost immediately. Federal investigators have said all seven victims were within 50 feet of the unit and had no chance of escaping.  

The report comes as the company says it will start bringing the refinery, located about 70 miles north of Seattle, back on line Wednesday with the goal of full operations by Oct. 15.

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