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Originally published Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 3:58 PM

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Tesoro's long list of willful violations at its Anacortes refinery

The state Department of Labor & Industries fined the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes a record amount for a preventable tragedy that claimed seven lives.

A RECORD fine for the lethal explosion that claimed seven lives in April at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes makes one statement. The stark, unequivocal language used to describe the company's failure to adequately manage the plant and protect its workers speaks even louder.

The explosion that claimed so many lives was a true tragedy, a series of preventable events leading to disaster. Refinery operations were sloppy even by standards within a haphazard industry.

A six-month investigation by the state Department of Labor & Industries found 39 willful violations and five serious violations of state health and safety regulations. The state defines a willful violation as a "category of violation where an employer knowingly violates a rule and is plainly indifferent to correcting it."

Operation of a petroleum refinery involves complex systems and hazardous working conditions. No one would argue the point. Those rigorous industrial demands make the maintenance, testing and inspection of equipment, worker training and safety protocols all the more important.

The $2.38 million fine levied by the state in its 39-page citation, which the company can appeal, is the largest in agency history. Still, it seems puny in light of these conclusions:

"L&I inspectors found that Tesoro disregarded a host of workplace safety regulations, continued to operate failing equipment for years, postponed maintenance, inadequately tested for potentially catastrophic damage and failed to properly protect their workers from significant risk of injury and death."

The word failure echoes through the citation with a steady drumbeat of withering repetition. The state lays out Tesoro's failure to train and equip workers, failure to adopt good engineering practices in refinery operations, failure to manage change, failure to maintain equipment and inventories of spare parts.

Seven people died because of conditions the state concluded their employer was "plainly indifferent" to correct. A preventable catastrophe certainly not unknown in the industry.

The after-the-fact exposition of what happened at Tesoro appears thorough. One can hardly be impressed with state and federal oversight of this refinery and others before the grievous and deadly events of last April. A preventable event with not much apparently done to prevent it.

The state's catalog of willful violations is tough and plain-spoken. The real test will be to see how it, and the state's commitment to safety, stand up to predictable challenges.

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