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Corporate Murder or Murder Inc.?

By James Ketola

 

On Feb.23 1999 at Tosco Oil Refinery near Concord, California five men
were burned up in a fire ball that was described as a momentary “hell on
earth”. Four of the five died and a fifth clings to life in a Berkeley,
Ca hospital with broken bones and serious burns all over his body, even
if he lives there is no real recovery from injuries like that.  Tosco’s
CEO Thomas O’Mally blames the fire on human error and said “it could
have been prevented.” He also said, “one or more workers did not follow
written safety procedures..” That much is obvious the real
question is why? O’Mally’s statements seem to be blaming the workers
killed in the latest of a string of mishaps that have plagued Tosco for
many years. Seven workers have been killed at the Tosco Avon refinery in
the last 16 years!

 

 Two years ago another refinery worker named Michael Glanzman killed
when a pipe wall ruptured triggering an explosion that shattered windows
in the plant, causing a panic stampede, among Swinerton and Walberg
hands (a refinery fire will make track stars out of a bunch of fat old
men) working on a near by unit and knocked a shut down superintendent
out of his chair.

 

  Lets look at the operation being preformed for some clues to which
human or group of them are at fault here. On the morning of Feb. 23rd
1999 6 men started the job of cutting up a pipe containing Naphtha that
had been leaking for a week. Anthony Creggett, Ernie Pofahl, Raymond
Rodacker, Ricardo Enriquez, Rollin Blue and Steve Duncan knew that the
pipe was full of volatile liquid so did plant management. Workers had
been trying to drain the line for a week but their efforts were thwarted
by stuck and blocked valves. Anthony Creggett as the lead operator for
the zone was trying to get the high temperature distilling process shut
down  but plant managers said to keep it running.. On the morning of the
23rd he was trying to help workers drain the naphtha, knowing how
flammable the liquid was, when supervisors again stopped him and said
,”no were going to go a different route, ‘ “ . At least 100 gallons were
left inside the pipe. By 10 that morning the crew had removed a section
of pipe above the pin hole leak by mechanical means, no hot work permits
would have been issued under those circumstances. (a hot work permit
allows a worker to use a source of ignition such as power tools or a
burning torch)

 

  At 12:18 PM the pipe burped and disgorged Naphtha soaking the five men
on the scaffolding, splashing on to hot metal and immediately burst into
flames engulfing every one up there. Mark Anglin a Tosco machinist
describes the explosion, “I was on a cooling tower and saw the thing
go…It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The fireball just whipped
up that tower, and you couldn’t even see the guys after it got to them,
then it was flames all over the scaffolding. It was awful… “  Anthony
Creggett hadn’t yet gone back up the 133 ft. tower he had stayed behind
to finish a sandwich. Steve Duncan was blown off the scaffolding and
suffered broken bones in addition to third degree burns as a result of
the explosion. As sirens blasted Tosco rescue workers struggled to reach
the four men on the platform 30 to 100 ft. above ground to bring them
down. Rescuers had to pick their way through up the maze of pipes,
ladders and scaffolding. “… In someone’s worst nightmare, they would
have had a tough time coming up with a more brutal rescue scenario,”
said Aaron Edens, operations manager for American Medical Response who
pulled up to find a forest of fire agencies, helicopters and other
ambulances already ringing the tower. “ You’re on an elevated platform
in a confined space with multiple patients suffering from severe burns.
It doesn’t get much worse then that. Given this situation it is puzzling
to understand why Contra Costa’s highly trained fire rescue unit was
held up at the gate for an hour before being allowed in to assist as the
victims were being bundled into stretchers and lowered to the ground by
crane

 

 We can see from the course of events that all normal safety procedures
were being violated here and that responsible parties were fully aware
of the situation and allowed the unsafe work to proceed. For Mr. O’Mally
to implicate the workers ads insult to injury they were only going along
with the program probably with serious reservations. The way things were
being done was a screaming violation of long established safety
procedures for this kind of work. This I know from personal experience!
If that had been Building Trades people doing that work that “accident”
could not have happened. When I talked to Tom Baca a Business Agent for
Boilermakers Lodge 549 he agreed our people couldn’t have been
intimidated into working under those conditions. No original thinking is
required as there are long established safety procedures for cutting
into pipes opening vessels and etc.

 

 First the unit being worked on should have been taken of line and all
product removed, then all power sources Locked out and Tagged out. Lock
out and Tag out is shutting off all power sources connected to the unit
and securing with a multiple lock hasp, one lock for each person working
on a piece of equipment and then warning tags saying do not use remove
etc. Then all pipes are opened at flanges and blinded. (a blind is like
a steel pancake with a handle that is large enough to block any flow
beyond it) This is done because as the hands know valves leak! Now the
pipe downstream of the flange can be drained and if necessary flushed
out. In their own words other hands have this to say about doing this
kind of work on a live operating unit, Jerry Zeuli Boilermaker 20yrs.
“That’s suicide”,

 

Ruby Wallis Pipefitter 24yrs. “ I’ve never worked on a live unit like
that”. I myself have 20 years of experience of  on and off work both on
maintenance and new construction in the Bay Area’s refineries and am in
total agreement with Jerry, that is suicide. They way in which those
guys were told to go about things breaks every rule in the book and a
few that aren’t there. Why did they do it?

 

 One simple answer, fear! They were afraid of losing their jobs because
Tosco had been laying people off cutting the crew to the bone. Jeff
Clark of OCAW local 8-5 which represents 700 of the 800 workers at Tosco
said “ we have some real concerns about the staffing, they were having
operators take safety inspection work, others doing maintenance work,
having every one work leaner and harder, and we’re not fully comfortable
with that.”  Many workers were tense because of the doubling up and the
possibility of more layoffs. Ernie was a former manager who had been
laid off, then rehired last year. Another worker on Ernie’s crew said,
“Ernie was never late for work he usually showed up 20 min. early…. But
with these layoffs coming he was worried for himself and his buddies,
just real nervous his morale there was rock bottom.”

 

O’Mally’s apologies to the Contra Costa board of Supervisors ring a
little hollow when one realizes that his
cost cutting policies are responsible for five deaths in the last 2
years. “ There is no way to justify a horrific event like this,” O’Mally
told the board. “The loss of human life is never acceptable ” blaming
human failure for the accident he went on to claim that the accident
could have been prevented if the crew had been following company policy
and that the unit should have been shut down just before the fire
because naphtha  remained in the pipe. Isn’t that what Anthony Creggett
wanted to do follow company policy when his superiors over ruled him? At
a special California State Assembly hearing in Richmond, regarding a
string of recent oil refinery accidents in Contra Costa County Kathy
Alatore, whose brother, Michael Glanzman was killed in a 1997 accident
at Tosco had this to say.” When I heard of the new explosion my first
thought was, they did it again. I would not be allowed to get away with
murder. Why are they allowed to hid behind the law. When safety issues
and warnings and concerns are ignored, I feel it’s equivalent to
premeditated murder.

 

I wouldn’t expect an indictment any time soon, there’s one set of laws
for us and another for people who live in 27,00 square foot. houses on
private islands off the Connecticut shore and earn $5.6 million as CEO’s
with a reputation for cost cutting. Genuine contrition or Crocodile
tears you be the judge. Time will tell the sincerity of his remorse. If
Tosco restores it’s manpower to safe levels or continues to lay off will
be the test.


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