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Tesoro fireball, which killed 7, could have been prevented

Many California residents may remember hearing about the deadly fireball that erupted at a Tesoro refinery in Washington in 2010, killing seven workers. The seven workers were engulfed in a fire when a heat exchanger burst into flames while they were checking another for leaks. The refinery explosion has been labeled the deadliest in the U.S. since the 2005 explosion at a BP refinery, which claimed 15 lives and resulted in workplace injuries to 180 people.

The Chemical Safety Board and the state Department of Labor & Industries have each now completed an investigation of this more recent tragedy, with both organizations finding that it could have been prevented.

The fireball reportedly occurred after hydrogen caused damage to carbon steel on the heat exchanger, causing it to ultimately rupture.

The state department found six months after the tragic workplace explosion that the company had overlooked its own safety precautions and failed to properly maintain its equipment.

The CSB has found that the company had neglected to take measures that would have allowed it to identify this problem before it resulted in tragedy. The CSB faulted Tesoro and the American Petroleum Institute for failing to have policies and technology in place to allow companies to identify hazards like this before they result in tragedy. The CSB also said that the state department of Labor & Industries needs to implement more stringent worker safeguards in this industry.

Though the CSB does investigate chemical facilities following these types of tragic incidents, it does not have the authority to enforce laws. The CSB is capable, however, of recommending best practices and improvements. Tesoro is in disagreement with many of the findings and accusations the CSB reported during the investigation.

What will come of this investigation remains to be seen. Employers are required to protect employees from known safety risks in the workplace and to address known safety hazards. When someone is injured or killed in a workplace accident, it is important that they or their families seek legal guidance in order to protect their rights to obtain compensation and seek justice. 

Source: Reuters, “U.S. board faults refiners, regulators in deadly Tesoro blast,” Erwin Seba, Jan. 30, 2014

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