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Shell refinery employee found dead in water tank

Martinez News-Gazette

Martinez Police and Cal/OSHA investigating cause of death of Bill Maddock.

May 1, 2009
Bill Maddock was a 22-year veteran of the Shell refinery.

After an intense daylong hunt for a missing refinery worker, a search-and-rescue team found the body of Bill Maddock, a 22-year Martinez Shell veteran, floating in a water collection tank on Wednesday evening.

The cause of death is still unknown, according to John Maddock, Bill’s brother, who answered the phone at the Maddock residence on Thursday afternoon.

The Martinez Police Department, California’s Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and Shell representatives all said they were waiting for results from the autopsy to determine cause of death.

Maddock, 54, who lived in Antioch with his wife Rory and sons Brad, 24, and Colin, 19, was a supervisor at the refinery, and the shift team leader on the night he died. He was working the graveyard shift, and was due to conduct a routine shift change meeting at 5:30 a.m. When he did not appear for the meeting, and his car was found still in the parking lot, his colleagues became alarmed.

“The whole scene is blocked off and there are a lot of rumors flying,” said Steve Williams, a Shell worker who was tapped to join a search crew Wednesday night; however, Maddock was found before Williams came on duty. “It’s a sad day here at Shell, with the flag flying at half mast.”

Williams said he knew Maddock had been summoned earlier in his shift to an emergency problem at the refinery, but that problem had been fixed.

“This is one of the safest work places. There is such an emphasis on safety,” Williams added. “But I can guarantee you that there will be some policy changes after this. I’m sure from now on, people won’t be able to go into the tanks by themselves. They might slip and fall and even with a hard hat, it’s not good.”

In a prepared statement, Shell said, “It is with extreme sadness that we announce search personnel have confirmed the discovery of previously reported missing employee, Bill Maddock, deceased at the Shell Martinez Refinery. An ongoing investigation of the circumstances is being conducted by the Martinez Police Department.

Shell would like to express our sincere condolences to the Maddock Family, specifically wife Rory and sons, Brad and Colin.”

“This is simply devastating news. We have been hoping for the best and are shocked and saddened to have to report the worst. Bill is loved by all of those who have had the privilege of working with him. He has always been, and will continue to be, a bright light here at Shell. Those who worked with him will tell you of his great sense of humor, and what a devoted and loving friend he was,” said Refinery General Manager Alicia Izarraraz, in the written statement. “We ask everyone to join us in praying for Rory and the family during this difficult time. I also want to personally thank the Contra Costa County Search and Rescue organization, the County Sheriff’s Office, the Martinez Police Department and the over 100 Shell employees who devoted their time to helping in the search.”

Dean Fryer with Cal/OSHA said Thursday that his agency had already assigned a staff investigator to the case.

“It is a workplace fatality, so … we have opened an investigation per law,” said Fryer. “It’s in the very early stages obviously, but we need to try to piece together what happened.”

Fryer outlined the OSHA investigative process and said the agency would be looking at a number of factors in determining what went wrong.

“He was a veteran [employee] but we’ll be looking at what training procedures were in place, were there refresher courses? What his work assignments were, why he was where he was and what he was doing there. We’ll use employee and employer interviews and documentation, and look at the specific site—were there any hazards? Guards to prevent falling in the tanks? Did he have a medical condition? All these are elements that we need to look at closely,” said Fryer.

Cal OSHA operates a separate department entitled the Process Safety Management Unit, which frequently conducts refinery inspections, Fryer explained, but in accident or fatality cases, it will be the main state agency staff that will conduct the investigation.

When asked if the refinery could possibly be criminally liable if safety lapses are discovered, Fryer said that would be up to the Contra Costa County District Attorney to decided.

“The D.A would make that call,” Fryer said. “We don’t look at who’s at fault; we look at violations in the health and safety code. Fines could range from a few thousands to tens of thousands—up to $70,000 if it is found that it was willful, if the employer had knowledge of safety problems but totally ignored them or refused to correct.”


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