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Washington state fines BP for safety violations at refinery

The BP Cherry Point refinery has been fined $69,200 for 13 safety violations that the Washington Department of Labor and Industries has labeled "serious."

BP Cherry Point, located west of Ferndale, is the largest refinery in Washington, processing 225,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

About 10 workers from the BP Cherry Point refinery have been sent to Louisiana to help with efforts to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

By the end of the week, 20 workers will be in the area, said Bill Kidd, director of external affairs at Cherry Point. About 800 employees work at the Cherry Point refinery.

In a press release, Labor and Industries said its inspection focused on the hydrocracker process unit, which refines low-grade oil into gasoline. Twelve of the violations involve regulations governing the management of highly hazardous chemicals. One of the violations involves a failure to provide proper machine guarding.

The 12 process safety management problems included failure to routinely inspect or maintain safety control devices, such as pressure safety valves; inaccurate or outdated instrument diagrams; and failure to record whether identified safety hazards were corrected. One violation noted that there were 38 instances of safety recommendations for which there was no record they were ever implemented.

"The safety violations our inspectors uncovered at BP were problems similar to those we've uncovered in all of the refineries we have inspected in Washington," Michael Silverstein, assistant director for L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in a press release. "Petroleum refineries are inherently risky work environments, and following the safety regulations is the key to preventing explosions and other life-threatening events."

BP has 15 days to appeal the latest fines.

Company spokesman Bill Kidd said officials have not had time to review the L&I citations but said his company wants to work with regulators to maintain and improve safety.

"We take the responsibility for the safety of our employees and our neighbors very seriously," Kidd said. "It's our top priority. . . . While we're proud of our track record, there's always room for improvement."

The inspections leading to the fines began in November, months before the April explosion and fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes that killed seven workers. The inspections were part of a statewide emphasis on refinery safety that began in 2007 as a response to a federal initiative. Regulators mounted that initiative after a number of refinery mishaps, the worst of which was a 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas that killed 15 workers.

After the Texas disaster, BP convened an elite panel to report on safety practices at all of its refineries. The report generally gave the Cherry Point refinery high marks for safety precautions.

In 2005, a worker employed by a refinery maintenance firm died after he fell from a scaffold inside a refining tower at the Cherry Point refinery. Both BP and the contracting firm were fined for safety violations after that incident.

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