Category Archives: Cal/OSHA


An Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)
for Benicia

To learn more about ISO Benicia,
please attend a panel discussion with State Officials, and Contra Costa County experts on why and how Benicia can better protect our community.

Why:  Currently, Benicia is the only refinery town in the Bay Area not protected by an ISO. In Contra Costa County, the county Hazardous Materials Division of the Health Department is responsible for enforcing an ISO that governs the three refineries in the county unincorporated areas – Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. The City of Richmond has an ordinance that mirrors the county’s and contracts with Contra Costa County for enforcement activities governing the Chevron refinery and other industries.

When:   TODAY! Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 7pm.

Where:  The Benicia Public Library in the Doña Benicia Room at 150 East L St. in Benicia.


  • Gregory Vlasek, Local Program Coordination and Emergency Response, California Environmental Protection Agency
  • Clyde Trombettas, Statewide Manager and Policy Advisor for California OSHA, Process Safety Management Unit
  • Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County Chief Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials Officer
  • John Gioia,  Contra Costa County Supervisor
  • Staff representatives from Solano County were invited to participate and declined the invitation.
  • You:  There will also be an opportunity for the public to ask questions and make comments at the end of the presentations.

For more information:  Contact Andrés Soto at 510.237.6866 or  [See also below: Quick Facts, and Where To Write.]

Event Sponsors:

Benicians For a Safe & Healthy Community | Progressive Democrats of Benicia | The Benicia Independent | Communities for a Better Environment  |  ALSO: Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown |  United Democrats of Southern Solano County  |  Carquinez Patriotic Resistance

Quick Facts

What is the purpose of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)?
The main goal of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) is to prevent and/or minimize the effects of devastating accidents on the employees close to the accident and the surrounding communities.

Why does Benicia need this when the State has an ISO?
After the near-catastrophic May 5th Valero Refinery emergency shutdown and major flaring incident, it was even more apparent that Benicia is at risk without an ISO. Benicia is the only jurisdiction in the East Bay with a refinery or chemical industry that does not have a local safety ordinance such as the City of Richmond and other refinery communities have. The City of Benicia is covered by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA safety regulations.  However, there are additional concerns not addressed by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA, such as no direct safety reports filed at the City of Benicia, leaving Benicia in the dark.  An ISO would correct this and other safety matters. 

How would this improve communications between Valero and the community of Benicia?
A local ISO would facilitate cooperation between industry, the City, the County, local fire departments, Cal/OSHA, Cal/EPA, other agencies that have oversight of businesses, and the public in the prevention and reduction of incidents at refineries like Valero. An ISO would also establish local air quality monitors for access to real time data.

Why is the Valero refinery the only Bay Area refinery not involved with a county or local ISO?
In 1998 Contra Costa County adopted an ISO, and revised and updated it after the Chevron fire. The City of Richmond also has a local ISO.  These ISOs require among other things, refineries and other chemical businesses to submit a safety plan, undergo safety audits, and have risk management plans, each of which would allow more community input and access. The Contra Costa ISO has been praised as the best safety ordinance in the country, so effective that Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA adopted many elements for state regulation and oversight.  Benicia is the only city in Solano County that is home to refinery and currently our County has no plans to develop an ISO.  It is up to the City of Benicia to develop and implement its own. 

How would the ISO be managed and can Benicia afford it?
Contra Costa County’s ISO enables the county to collect fees from industrial facilities to pay for comprehensive public safety alerts and local information about environmental risks and exposure to toxins due to an “event”.  

What are the next steps and how can I get involved?
Because Benicia deserves to be properly protected and informed, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Progressive Democrats of Benicia, The Benicia Independent, Carquinez Patriotic Resistance, Communities For a Better Environment and additional community groups are urging the City Council to adopt and implement an Industrial Safety Ordinance for Benicia.  To learn more and get involved, visit  To write to Benicia city staff and council members, see below…


Mayor Elizabeth Patterson (
Vice Mayor Steve Young (
Tom Campbell (
Mark Hughes (
Alan Schwartzman (
City Manager Lorie Tinfow (
Interim Fire Chief Josh Chadwick (
Police Chief Erik Upson (
City Attorney Heather McLaughlin (

Mail to or visit City Hall: 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510
Phone numbers are listed on the City’s CONTACT PAGE

Benicia Herald, 820 First St, Benicia, CA 94510, or by email to the editor at
Vallejo Times-Herald, P.O. Box 3188, Vallejo, CA 94590, Fax: 643-0128, or by email to Editor Jack Bungart at

State hiring beginners for critical refinery-inspector jobs

Repost from SFGate

State hiring beginners for critical refinery-inspector jobs

State hiring new graduates for tough jobs that protect workers, public
Jaxon Van Derbeken  |  May 4, 2014

State regulators who were handed millions of dollars from the oil industry to improve refinery safety after the disastrous 2012 fire at Chevron’s Richmond plant are hiring inspectors out of college with little or no experience in the field, The Chronicle has learned.

The Legislature assessed new fees on oil refineries and dedicated the money for increased oversight in response to scathing federal criticism of the state’s refinery oversight leading up to the fire, which sent 15,000 people to hospitals complaining of respiratory and other problems. Federal investigators found that California conducted too few comprehensive inspections of refineries and that its lax monitoring allowed Chevron to ignore corroded pipes, one of which sprang a leak and started the fire.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which led the Chevron investigation, has also questioned the state’s inspection efforts in the wake of an acid spill in February at the Tesoro Corp. refinery near Martinez that sent two workers to the hospital with chemical burns.

In its reports after the Chevron fire, the board called for the state to hire more “experienced, competent” refinery inspectors. At the time of the Richmond fire, the state had seven inspectors, several of whom had years of experience working at refineries but did not have sufficient engineering backgrounds to stand up to industry pressure, federal investigators said.

After Cal/OSHA, the agency responsible for inspections, acknowledged that seven inspectors weren’t enough, the Legislature approved $5.4 million in annual fees on oil refineries and said the money should be spent on at least 15 inspectors.

19-member team

The Department of Industrial Relations – which oversees Cal/OSHA – hired six new inspectors and transferred employees from elsewhere in the agency to create a 19-member team that will inspect oil refineries and other hazardous-materials plants. However, none of the new hires has any refinery safety experience, state officials say.

Most have bachelor’s degrees in engineering and some have master’s, said Mike Wilson, chief scientist for Cal/OSHA, but none has ever worked in a refinery or done an inspection at one.

“We have some young new people – I am confident they will all be up to speed to where we intend to take this program,” said Christine Baker, head of the Department of Industrial Relations. “They are all very qualified people, or they would not even be considered to meet the civil service standards of this position.”

They will join existing refinery inspectors and six transfers from elsewhere in Cal/OSHA in the new unit, Wilson said. The transferred inspectors have not worked at refineries either.

Sponsor’s concerns

State Sen. Loni Hancock, author of the bill that raised the money for new inspectors, said she has pressed state officials to explain their hiring strategy, and so far is not satisfied.

“I am trying to get enough highly qualified inspectors on board so we don’t have a Tesoro a year after we have a Chevron,” said Hancock, D-Berkeley. She said she has asked Cal/OSHA why it is hiring recent engineering graduates instead of industry veterans, but “we have not gotten those answers yet.”

Wilson said the hires and transfers will undergo training over several months before starting inspections. Cal/OSHA expects its beefed-up unit to conduct comprehensive inspections at four refineries per year, each lasting roughly five months – compared with the 50 to 70 hours of staff time typical of inspections before the Chevron fire.

An official with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board questioned whether Cal/OSHA was taking the right approach in its hiring.

“They need more experienced people,” said Don Holmstrom, head of the federal agency’s Western region investigations office. “Not all of the people need to be experienced people, but you could have half of them with 10 or more years in a refinery or a chemical plant.”

Only about one-fourth of the 19 inspectors in the beefed-up inspection unit will have that much experience, according to numbers provided by the Department of Industrial Relations. All of those were with Cal/OSHA at the time of the Chevron fire.

“It doesn’t sound necessarily like they are hiring the same kind of people we would hire,” Holmstrom said.

Hancock said lawmakers wanted “enough highly qualified inspectors to go into these very dangerous and complex places – people who are skilled engineers in this area – and make sure safety regulations are being met.”

Ready for challenges

Only inspectors with experience and knowledge will be equipped to take on companies like Chevron with “armies of lawyers who are qualified and highly trained, and they challenge every fine, every finding, no matter how small, and string it out,” Hancock said.

Holmstrom echoed Hancock’s concerns, adding that even the holdover veterans at Cal/OSHA aren’t “chemical engineers with refinery experience.”

They may have experience operating refineries, he said, “but don’t have technical experience needed to challenge the companies. Without it, that’s not going to happen.”

Baker said the holdovers have “over 60 years of combined hands-on experience in refinery work, which has contributed enormously to the effectiveness of our oversight.”

She added that although “staffing is critical” to improving refinery safety, increased staffing alone is “insufficient to improve refinery safety at the pace and scale that I believe is needed.”

“Like most public health and safety problems, enforcement efforts are most effective when they are part of a comprehensive prevention effort,” Baker said.

For the newly created refinery inspection team to do its job, she said, it “must be provided with modernized regulations” that would make refineries provide proof that they identify and fix hazards. The Department of Industrial Relations is drawing up such rules, Baker said.

Big enough team?

Federal officials aren’t sure that even a 19-inspector unit is enough, given that the state is responsible for ensuring that California’s 14 active refineries and 1,800 chemical plants are being run safely.

Great Britain, which has the same number of oil refineries as California, dedicates a team of four inspectors per refinery, backed up by scientific experts, said Holmstrom, who recently visited England to study its approach to refinery safety.

Hancock said she is determined to “figure out how to get the inspections done that we need, and if (state officials) can’t provide them, we ought to give it back to the federal government – let the CSB (Chemical Safety Board) run our oil refinery program. I’m looking to see evidence that there is some sense of urgency and commitment here.”

Wilson said California’s reform process has been rapid, by the state’s standards, but change “doesn’t happen overnight.”

Jaxon Van Derbeken is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.