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Tesoro’s history shows that accountability’s an issue

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Oct. 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
October 4, 2010 5:04 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Seven dead workers. A “preventable” tragedy. Citations for 39 “willful” violations and five “serious” violations of state workplace safety and health regulations.

The state Department of Labor & Industries has slapped Tesoro Corp. with the biggest fine in the agency’s history – $2.38 million – for woefully lax safety provisions at its Anacortes oil refinery. An explosion there in April killed seven workers.

All very well and good, but when a company knowingly violates basic safety rules – especially in an industry with so much potential for devastating explosions – that’s just not enough. Those who allowed those violations to occur should be held personally accountable.

And where were the regulatory officials? Somebody should have caught at least some of the “willful” violations, if not the “serious” ones – those with potential to cause death or serious physical injury – before seven people were killed.

In 2009, L&I fined Tesoro $85,700 for 17 “serious” safety violations and 133 lesser ones. Tesoro appealed the fine and L&I agreed to dismiss all but three of the 17 serious violation. The fine was reduced to $12,250.

In hindsight, that’s not looking like such a good decision. Did it send Tesoro a message that the state doesn’t take these things seriously? That serious violations that potentially endanger workers’ lives deserve only a rap on the knuckles? If Tesoro has the gall to appeal this latest fine, L&I better not back down again.

The oil and gas industry has had a series of devastating accidents in recent months; besides the Tesoro blast, 11 workers died in the BP oil well explosion in April, and seven residents of a San Bruno, Calif., neighborhood were killed when a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. natural gas pipeline ruptured.

Tesoro officials say they plan to have the refinery back in business later this month. Workers can only hope that the record L&I fine sends a tougher message to the company, and that regulators at both the state and federal level are acting aggressively to protect them.

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