Washington Proposed Rule Beefs up Refinery Worker Protections

July 17, 2023

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is proposing updated workplace safety rules for petroleum refineries designed to prevent catastrophic events like the 2010 explosion that killed seven workers at the former Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

The proposed update addresses what’s known as process safety management, which describes the way workplaces handle dangerous chemicals and ensures that processes, people, and equipment all work together to reduce risk. The proposal focuses specifically on petroleum refineries.

Washington’s PSM rule has not been updated in nearly 30 years, according to Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The proposed new requirements include:

Performing reviews to identify the most effective ways to control a hazard;

Incorporating consideration of human factors like staffing levels and turnover, training, fatigue and task complexity;

Conducting root cause analyses after significant accidents;

Frequently analyzing hazards, safeguards and controls, mechanical factors, and process changes and updating safety programs accordingly;

Assessing workplace safety culture so workers and managers prioritize safety, not production.

Full details of the proposal are posted on the L&I website.

L&I developed the proposed rule with input from refinery operators, worker advocates, community advocates and other stakeholders. The proposed rule largely aligns with California’s refinery PSM rule.

The filing of the proposed rule officially kicks off the formal process for public input. Hearings are scheduled for Aug. 10 and 17 in Bellingham, near most of the state’s refineries, with a virtual hearing to be held on Aug. 15.

L&I expects to have the updated PSM rule in place by the end of the year.