Patty in the News

The deadliest refinery blast in a decade has Sen. Patty Murray calling for change.

On Tuesday, Murray, D-Wash., grilled federal inspectors who reviewed Tesoro's safety measures shortly before the fatal accident in Anacortes earlier this month. The senator says the shortcomings she found make no sense.

The seven killed Tesoro refinery workers had no idea they would never return home again when they left their families and headed to work on that fateful day.

Equipment exploded and a "firewall" engulfed the crew as they powered up a fuel processing unit. Investigators still don't know what went wrong, but Murray is pressing for answers.

"I'm trying to understand how OSHA's inspection protocols work in states like my state," Murray said.

Murray asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration why Tesoro's 17 prior violations didn't convince regulators to intervene sooner.

OSHA says current law seriously limits its powers.

"We can certainly ask the employer to shut it down, but we can't require it. We have to go to court," said David Michaels of OSHA.

Gov. Chris Gregoire used Sunday's memorial service for the killed workers to make a similar promise to keep the workplace safe.

"We will work diligently to find out what happened to ensure that it does not happen again," she said.

A high-ranking member of the steelworkers union representing the fallen workers says the refinery industry needs tougher standards for maintaining its equipment.

"They ought to be talking about why they are taking 60-year-old equipment and running it non-stop for six years now instead of three years before they take it down and repair it," said union spokesman Gary Beevers.

Murray learned of other shortcomings regulators deal with, including how companies can keep violations in one state from being discovered in another.

"We don't know, and we can't use that information. It's one of the many weaknesses of the law that we hope might be addressed," said Michaels.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is still completing its probe into what caused the explosion. Tesoro is conducting a separate investigation as are the United Steelworkers and the state Department of Labor and Industries.