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Chevron's employer defense in California refinery fire

Employer defense can become a necessity for some employers when their business operations and safety measures are under scrutiny. Following a Chevron refinery fire in California, a proposal was created to change safety practices that could potentially improve refinery safety. Reports indicate that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board recently chose not to accept the proposal based off of its inability to create an immediate difference in safety practices. In addition to Chevron's employer defense, company officials believe that new regulations with this requirement could in fact cause a greater number of accidents due to its complex nature.

The initial refinery accident occurred when a corroded oil pipe grew a leak and then cracked open, catching fire and covering the surrounding area with toxic smoke. Close to 15,000 people experienced breathing problems and had to seek treatment. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board accuses Chevron of intentionally ignoring information that revealed the highly corrosive properties of the crude oil and the necessity to replace pipeline.

California OSHA cited Chevron for violations pertaining to the lack of safety and specifically to the fire caused by the leaking pipe. Reports show that Chevron will appeal the $1 million worth of citations after their plea of no-contest to the criminal charges filed after the fire. This is in addition to the $2 million settlement Chevron made for compensation and fines congruent with a three-year, six-month probationary period requiring increased inspections.

California OSHA did confirm that previous inspections of the Chevron refinery did not warrant any citations as no violations were discovered. They confirmed the inspections were less than perfect. A California employer who is surprised by state regulatory fines and accusations may choose to develop an employer defense to protect the company and assets.

Source: sfgate.com, Chevron fire reforms fall flat with federal panel, Jaxon Van Derbeken, Jan. 16, 2014

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