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March 22, 2024
DOL files whistleblower suit against chemical manufacturer

The Department of Labor (DOL) filed a federal whistleblower complaint against a Georgia pesticide and agricultural chemical manufacturer after the company allegedly terminated a worker’s employment in retaliation for filing a safety and health complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the DOL announced March 18.

OSHA alleges that Avenger Products LLC and its parent company, Kittrich Corp., violated the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act by firing the worker because the worker exercised whistleblower rights that are protected under the act. The DOL is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for the former customer service manager to address lost wages, other financial losses, and emotional distress related to the termination, as well as permanently forbids the company from future retaliation.

An OSHA investigation found the employer terminated the employee after the employee made complaints about safety hazards associated with chemical exposures in the workplace.

“The employer’s actions toward this worker and its response to concerns about the potential chemical exposure hazards to their workers are alarming,” Lily Colón, OSHA’s Atlanta assistant regional administrator, said in an agency statement. “Retaliation by employers like Avenger Products against employees who exercise their protected rights under the law create a chilling effect on the willingness of other employees to cooperate with federal safety investigations.”

OSHA’s whistleblower protection authority was established in the OSH Act to protect workers who lodge safety or health complaints or cooperate with agency investigations of workplace safety and health violations. OSHA is now responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints under more than 20 federal statutes.

Houston contractor facing $257K OSHA fine

Houston-area contractor Hurtado Construction Co. faces $257,811 in OSHA fines following the death of an 18-year-old worker in a 15-foot trench wall collapse near Fulshear, Texas, OSHA announced March 18.

OSHA investigators determined that Hurtado Construction allowed the teenager to work in the excavation without a proper protective system in place to prevent its collapse. The young worker suffered fatal injuries when the trench wall caved in and tons of dirt pinned him against a reinforced concrete box. The agency previously cited the company for failing to use an adequate protective system to safeguard employees from a potentially deadly collapse at another excavation worksite in Katy, Texas.

Following the agency’s investigation of the Fulshear fatality, it issued five serious citations for Hurtado’s failures to do the following:

  • Have someone available to render first aid at the Fulshear site.
  • Provide a ladder for a quick escape.
  • Make employees work in an excavation not saturated with water.
  • Properly use a reinforced concrete box as a protective system during excavation work.

“The company’s callous disregard has cost a young man his life and left his family, friends, and co-workers to grieve a terrible tragedy under circumstances that were completely preventable,” Larissa Ipsen, OSHA’s Houston area office director, said in a statement.

Oklahoma oil services contractor facing $103K OSHA fine

C&M Roustabout Services LLC, an Oklahoma City-area employer, faces $103,232 in OSHA fines after a 30-year-old worker suffered fatal asphyxiation while trying to make repairs inside a water tank at a McClain County wellsite, the agency announced March 18.

Investigators determined the worker had entered a permit-required confined space to fix a leaking bulkhead valve in a production tank and then lost consciousness. Two coworkers entered the tank in a failed rescue attempt and suffered effects from exposure to low atmospheric conditions, although neither sustained injuries.

OSHA issued C&M Roustabout Services 16 serious citations, 13 of which are related to failures that contributed to the worker’s death, including the following:

  • Allowing employees to enter a confined space without an atmospheric evaluation or a required permit;
  • Not providing flame-resistant personal protective equipment;
  • Failing to have testing and ventilation equipment space entry programs in place;
  • Not training employees to establish proficiency in confined space hazards; and
  • Failing to ensure those authorized to enter the space knew the hazards, signs, or symptoms of exposure.

“OSHA has specific requirements for operations such as drilling, servicing, and storage to protect people employed in this high-hazard industry,” Steve Kirby, OSHA’s Oklahoma City area office director, said in a statement.

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