OSHA Quick Takes – August 16, 2010

In This Issue

BP agrees to pay more than $50 million in fines for safety hazards uncorrected after 2005 explosion killed 15 workers

BP Products North America Inc. has agreed to pay OSHA a full penalty of $50.6 million stemming from the 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others. In addition to paying the record fine, BP has agreed to take immediate steps to protect those now working at the refinery, allocating a minimum of $500 million to that effort.

“This agreement achieves our goal of protecting workers at the refinery and ensuring that critical safety upgrades are made as quickly as possible,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The size of the penalty rightly reflects BP’s disregard for workplace safety and shows that we will enforce the law so workers can return home safe at the end of their day.”

Under the agreement*, finalized Aug. 12, BP will immediately begin performing safety reviews of the refinery equipment according to set schedules and make permanent corrections. The agreement also identifies many items in need of immediate attention; the company has agreed to address those concerns quickly and to hire independent experts to monitor its efforts. Additionally, the agreement provides an unprecedented level of oversight of BP’s safety program including regular meetings with OSHA, frequent site inspections and the submission of quarterly reports for the agency’s review.

“Safer conditions at this refinery should result from this arrangement, which goes far beyond what can normally be achieved through abatement of problems identified in citations,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels. “Make no mistake, OSHA will be watching to ensure that BP complies with the agreement and safeguards its workers.”

See the OSHA Web site for the more information on the agreement and OSHA’s investigations resulting from the 2005 fatal explosion.

Kleen Energy fined more than $16 million after power plant explosion kills six workers
OSHA warns other plants not to engage in same potentially deadly practices

OSHA issued $16.6 million in penalties for 371 workplace safety violations to three construction companies and 14 site contractors following a February 7 deadly natural gas explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems LLC power plant construction site in Middletown, Conn. Six workers were killed and 50 others injured by the blast that occurred when flammable natural gas was being pumped under high pressure to clean new fuel lines. The gas was vented into areas where it could not easily disperse, contacted an ignition source and exploded. Employers had allowed welding and other work to continue nearby at the time, creating an extremely dangerous situation.

“The millions of dollars in fines levied pale in comparison to the value of the six lives lost and numerous other lives disrupted,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in an Aug. 4 news release. “However, the fines and penalties reflect the gravity and severity of the deadly conditions created by the companies managing the work at the site. No operation and no deadline is worth cutting common sense safety procedures. Workers should not sacrifice their lives for their livelihoods.”

Nearly $16 million in penalties were issued against O&G Industries Inc., the project’s general contractor; Keystone Construction and Maintenance Inc., which was in charge of the piping and oversaw the gas blow; and Bluewater Energy Services Inc., the commissioning and startup contractor for the plant. Another 14 subcontractors operating at the construction site received $686,000 in penalties.

“These employers blatantly disregarded well-known and accepted industry procedures and their own safety guidelines in conducting the gas blow operation in a manner that exposed workers to fire and explosion hazards,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels. “We see this time and time again across industries when companies deliberately ignore safety precautions in the interest of completing jobs quickly, and workers end up being killed or seriously hurt.”

As a result of the deadly incident at the Kleen Energy plant, OSHA will send a warning letter to natural gas power plant operators regarding the dangerous practice of cleaning fuel gas piping using natural gas, and the need to ensure that safety procedures and practices are implemented to prevent similar disasters.

Grain handling facility fined $721,000 after worker is engulfed in storage bin
Michaels reminds employers of their duty to protect workers’ lives

OSHA fined Cooperative Plus Inc. $721,000 after a near tragedy in February, when a worker in a storage bin was trapped in soybeans up to his chest in 25 degree weather. The worker was ultimately rescued after a four-hour ordeal. OSHA issued 10 citations against the Burlington, Wis., farmer-owned cooperative after inspectors concluded that the employer had willfully disregarded safety requirements by exposing workers to the risk of being engulfed and suffocated in grain storage bins. Two of the citations were for multiple egregious violations for failing to provide workers entering grain storage bins with body harnesses and lifelines and failing to provide an observer while other workers entered the grain bins. See the news release for more information about this case and OSHA’s new grain storage bins fact sheet* for more information on engulfment hazards.

Unfortunately, this type of incident happens with disturbing frequency in the grain handling industry. In the last 10 months, OSHA fined two grain handling facilities more than $3 million after separate incidents in which a 17-year-old who had just graduated high school and a 52-year-old husband and father were engulfed and suffocated in grain storage containers. Last month, two Illinois teenagers (ages 14 and 19) were suffocated after being engulfed in a grain bin they had entered. A third young worker was hospitalized after being trapped in the bin for 12 hours.

To prevent future similar tragedies, OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels sent a letter to approximately 3,300 grain storage facilities across the country explaining the possible consequences of failing to comply with the Grain Handling Facility standard. “If any employee dies in a grain storage facility, in addition to any civil penalties proposed, OSHA will consider referring the incident to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution,” Michaels said.

OSHA addresses record number of egregious cases

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis warned during her 2009 swearing-in ceremony. Following up on that warning, OSHA is aggressively enforcing its standards when employers show indifference to protecting the safety and lives of their workers. During the past year and a half, OSHA investigators have issued citations for egregious violations in 17 cases, including those involving BP Products North America, Kleen Energy and Cooperative Plus. This is more than twice as many egregious cases as were issued during the two years before the current administration took office. OSHA inspectors cite egregious violations when an employer shows multiple instances of willful and flagrant indifference to correcting workplace hazards, many of which tragically result in worker fatalities, worksite catastrophes (such as explosions or chemical releases) or large numbers of worker injuries or illnesses. “We will not tolerate this type of blatant and egregious disregard for the health and safety of workers. Employers need to know there will be consequences,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels.

OSHA continues monitoring working conditions during oil spill cleanup

Even though BP has sealed its underwater well in the Gulf of Mexico, OSHA continues to monitor cleanup operations for any safety and health hazards as workers continue to deal with the remaining oil spill.

Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon four months ago that began the cleanup response, OSHA has made more than 3,000 site visits covering the vessels of opportunity, beach cleanup, staging areas, decontamination, distribution and deployment sites. OSHA posts Job-Specific Safety and Health Sheets online to provide information on the hazards associated with specific cleanup tasks and required personal protective equipment* and training*. Among the many hazards workers face–such as falls, drowning, fatigue, sharp objects and animal bites–the number one health concern continues to be heat stress, with more than 700 incidents so far, some very serious. In response to the continued threat of tropical storms entering the Gulf during hurricane season, OSHA recently posted a fact sheet on its Web site about hazards to cleanup workers from severe weather. OSHA has also made approximately 2,500 noise and chemical exposure assessments in areas of offshore and onshore cleanup activities. No air sampling by OSHA has detected hazardous chemicals at levels of concern.

Visit OSHA’s oil spill response Web page for more information on OSHA activities related to the oil spill cleanup as well as worker safety and health publications in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

New cranes and derricks rule published in Federal Register

OSHA’s new rule addressing the use of cranes and derricks in construction was published in the Federal Register Aug. 9. The rule, which replaces a decades-old version based on outdated standards, will take effect Nov. 8. It addresses critically important provisions for crane operation and incorporates technological advances that will provide improved protection for about 4.8 million workers employed by 267,000 construction, crane rental and crane certification establishments.

OSHA hosting Web Forum to identify hazardous chemicals most in need of agency action

OSHA is hosting a Web forum beginning Aug. 16, asking for stakeholder input in identifying chemicals most in need of oversight to protect workers. Hazardous chemicals cause worker injuries and illnesses including damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, skin and eyes. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for 2007 indicate workers suffered more than 55,000 illnesses related to chemical exposures and that nearly 17,500 chemical-related injuries and illnesses resulted in workers spending days away from work. This is likely an underestimate because effects from chemical exposures are often not recognized until years later. OSHA established approximately 400 chemical permissible exposure limits in its first two years by adopting existing national consensus or federal safety and health standards. Since then, OSHA has only been able to develop more protective regulations for 29 additional chemicals, while the majority of OSHA’s existing PELs have remained unchanged. The Web Forum will allow stakeholders to identify harmful chemicals and explain why OSHA should focus on these chemicals in developing long- and short-term solutions for reducing workers’ exposure. Go to the OSHA Web site to participate in the forum, which ends Aug. 27.

More than 200 stakeholders participate in series of meetings on injury and illness prevention

After OSHA held three stakeholder meetings on its Injury and Illness Prevention Program standard, the agency added two additional meetings to accommodate the record number of people wishing to participate. Approximately 200 attendees, representing a broad range of interests, provided comments at these five nationwide meetings, which also included about 350 observers. Representatives from unions, trade associations, professional organizations, large and small businesses, and other governmental agencies shared their thoughts on OSHA’s proposed rule to require employers to develop plans to identify workplace hazards and fix them before they cause an injury, illness or death. Attendees provided input on possible regulatory approaches and the scope and application, organization and economic impact of the proposed rule. Summary notes from the meetings are available on the Safety and Health Programs page of OSHA’s Web site.

Oregon OSHA announces 2010 Workers’ Memorial Scholarships

Oregon OSHA is honoring four Oregon students who lost a parent due to a workplace injury or illness with more than $6,500 in Workers’ Memorial Scholarship awards for the 2010-2011 academic year. Oregon OSHA presents the scholarships annually to assist in the postsecondary education of spouses or children of workers who were permanently and totally disabled or killed on the job. This year’s recipients include Brittany Ford, who lost her father when a machine crushed him two weeks after her seventh birthday; Amanda Morris, whose father was killed at work when she was two years old; and Marissa Becker, who was just entering college when her father died from overexposure to metal dust. The fourth recipient chose to remain anonymous. Oregon OSHA will honor the recipients at an Aug. 19 ceremony in Salem. See the Oregon OSHA news release* for more information.

Oregon is one of 22 states and territories operating their own occupational safety and health programs covering private and public sector workers. Five other states have safety and health programs that cover public workers only. A state plan must set job safety and health standards that are “at least as effective as” comparable federal OSHA standards. See the State OSH Plans page of OSHA’s Web site for more information on these programs and their requirements.

Job openings

Are you interested in a career with the Department of Labor? The department has job opportunities throughout the country, such as openings in OSHA that include a Safety and Occupational Health Specialist and a Medical Officer (Occupational Medicine).

See DOL’s electronic newsletter for more DOL news.

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Editor: Richard De Angelis, OSHA Office of Communications, 202-693-1999
For more information on occupational safety and health, visit OSHA’s Web site.

* Accessibility Assistance
Contact OSHA’s Office of Communications at (202) 693-1999 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

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