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OSHA fines Suncor $15K over fire that injured two

By Noelle Phillips

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Federal officials this month fined Suncor Energy more than $15,000 for a safety violation that led two employees to be injured in a December fire at the company’s Commerce City oil refinery.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $15,625 fine on June 7 for what inspectors labeled a serious violation at the refinery, according to an inspection report on the OSHA website. The report said the refinery violated standards for “process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals.”

Guidelines on OSHA’s website said those standards are in place to prevent unwanted releases of hazardous chemicals, especially into locations where employees and others could be exposed to serious hazards.

However, the online inspection report does not provide a summary of the incident or details about the specific violation that was cited.

An OSHA spokeswoman confirmed the fine was related to the Dec. 24 fire at the refinery but told The Denver Post to file a Freedom of Information Act request to receive a written report. The Post filed the request, but it could take months to receive a reply.

Efforts to reach Suncor officials for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

The Commerce City refinery experienced major malfunctions starting Dec. 21 after a sudden and extreme cold front swept across the Front Range. The cold forced Suncor to shut down the three plants where it refines crude oil into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and an ingredient used to make asphalt.The two employees were injured when a vapor release sparked a fire around 11 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Suncor has never released an update on the severity of its employees’ injuries or how the person’s recovery is progressing.

The cold snap and various malfunctions at the plant also caused the refinery to release harmful pollutants into the air and into Sand Creek. The refinery was closed for almost three months.

A $15,625 fine is the maximum penalty that OSHA can levy against a company for a single violation, according to a January news release. The penalties are intended to be a deterrent to prevent workplace safety hazards.

Suncor, which is headquartered in Canada, reported $2.7 billion in net earnings in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to its most recent quarterly earnings report.

In September 2020, JBS USA was fined a similar amount after OSHA determined the managers at its Greeley meat processing plant failed to provide a safe workplace during the coronavirus outbreak. Six workers died and nearly 300 got sick after a COVID-19 outbreak at the plant.

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