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Working to keep industrial workers in California safe

California oil refineries are under scrutiny due to recent reports that 15 oil refineries in the state have not been involved in workplace safety inspections per federal standards. Industrial workers may be interested to learn what the future holds for their safety as they continue to work in these environments. An incident at the Richmond refinery in August that left part of the plant destroyed has cast scrutiny on California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

In the Richmond incident in August, over 20 people barely escaped injury. Now, officials are hoping that the new attention placed on the workplace safety inspections and standards will help to promote a safer environment for industrial workers.

On average, federal auditors spend around 1,000 man-hours conducting full scale refinery inspections. On average, those refinery inspections resulted in 11 citations for workplace safety violations. The three state audits between 2006 and 2010 at the Richmond plant, however, averaged only 50 man-hours.

There has been an increased emphasis on the safety of refineries after a Texas refinery incident killed 15 workers in 2005. Though refinery inspections cannot prevent all accidents and injuries from occurring, they may help promote an overall safer work environment. Catastrophic injuries or death due to chemical accidents is higher among refineries than any other industry.

With so many people being employed by California refineries, workplace safety concerns are a large issue. For example, the Richmond refinery alone employs more than 600 workers.

Industrial workers are more likely to be exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins than those in other industries. In addition, working in large refineries around large equipment and heavy machinery, workplace accidents are not difficult to imagine. While the law does provide injured workers with workers' compensation benefits in the event that they are injured on-the-job, officials are working to decrease the chances for catastrophic injuries or deaths that may be avoidable.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Too few state oil refinery-safety checks," Jaxon Van Derbeken, Sept. 13, 2012

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