San Bernardino readers might recall the fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California last year. Federal officials investigating the accident recently announced some of their findings.

According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, California needs stronger regulations and better oversight of its refineries. However, the federal officials are concerned that California’s agency in charge of ensuring workplace safety — the Division of Occupational Safety and Health — might not have staff property trained or equipped for this task.

Specifically, officials believe state laws or regulations should require periodic corrosion reviews from refinery operators. State officials should also be trained how to assess whether refinery pipe systems are compliant with those regulations, as part of their checklist during scheduled safety inspections.

In addition, officials recommend that Cal/OSHA officials conduct more frequent safety checks of state refineries. In the six-year period before the Chevron refinery fire, California state inspectors performed only three safety inspections of the facility — none of which resulted in any citations. Only after the incident did state officials cite Chevron for several safety violations.

In the case of the Chevron fire, officials believe a corroded pipe dating from the 1970s caused a leak. That led to the fire, as well as black smoke spewing into the air and affecting neighboring residential communities. After the incident, it is reported that thousands of individuals sought medical attention for eye irritation and breathing problems. Several refinery workers also sought treatment for injuries through the company’s workers’ compensation policy.

Hopefully, state lawmakers will heed these recommendations. New safety regulations might help to create safer workplaces for refinery workers — and put neighbors more at ease.

Source:, “Feds say state should bolster refinery oversight,” April 5, 2013