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January 10, 2020
OSHA enforcement roundup: Discount retailers, fall hazards, silica, and more
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

OSHA inspections were up in 2019, and the trend of aggressive enforcement shows no sign of abatement any time soon. Take a look at some of the more significant enforcement cases from the past several months for a snapshot of OSHA’s recent inspection priorities. From fall hazards to silica and beyond, these cases illustrate the importance of a strong safety and health program for employers of all types and sizes.

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Fatal incidents lead to citations

Three tragic fatal incidents, two of which involved confined spaces, resulted in six-figure fines for the employers.

  • OSHA cited a railcar service company for confined space hazards after an employee asphyxiated while servicing a rail car containing crude oil sludge. OSHA cited the company with four willful and three serious violations for failing to protect employees from the hazards of entering permit-required confined spaces and inadequate respiratory protection procedures. “This tragedy could have been prevented if the employer had followed proper safety procedures for entering and cleaning railcars,” said Loren Sweatt. “Employers that fail to comply with the law will continue to see full and fair enforcement.” The company has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
    Penalty: $551,226 fine
  • In May 2019, a truck carrying a grain bin was traveling down a road, but was too tall to pass underneath a power line. A boom truck lift was used with a piece of PVC pipe attached to the basket to raise the power lines enough for the truck and grain bin to pass underneath. The boom lift had an operator working the controls from the bed of the truck and a spotter under the power lines to give signals. While lifting the power lines, the boom lift made contact with power lines, and the operator of the controls was killed by the electrocution. The employer was cited with three willful violations of OSHA’s standards for selection and use of electrical work practices, in addition to serious violations of its standards for ladders and fall protection.
    Penalty: $291,716 fine
  • OSHA cited a company that provides vacuum trucks to empty grease traps at a Texas airport with two willful and three serious violations after an employee suffered asphyxiation while inside a manhole access space that lacked adequate oxygen and a means to escape. OSHA determined that the employer lacked proper procedures, training, and equipment for accessing the permit-required confined space. “This tragedy could have been prevented if the company had followed proper safety procedures, such as air testing, communication systems and non-entry retrieval devices for employee rescue situations,” said Sweatt.
    Penalty: $301,188 fine

Employers cited for silica exposure

OSHA’s silica standard has been in effect for several years now, and employers that expose their workers to crystalline silica in excess of the permissible exposure limits are a target for enforcement.

  • OSHA cited an iron foundry in New York for 33 workplace health and safety violations. OSHA inspectors cited the company for multiple hazards, including exposing employees to crystalline silica, iron oxide, combustible dust, falls, struck-by and caught-between hazards, unsafe work floors and walking surfaces, inadequate respiratory protection, deficient safeguards for entering confined spaces, inaccessible and unavailable fire extinguishers, and an impeded exit route. The company also lacked an effective program for removing pests, and did not prevent the build-up of bird feces on equipment. “These hazards expose workers to injuries and long-term health effects,” said Jeffrey Prebish, OSHA’s area director in Syracuse. “Employers must recognize the safety and health risks inherent to their work operations and environment and take necessary precautions to protect employees who perform those operations.”
    Penalty: $460,316 fine
  • An Ohio foundry was cited with three repeat and 18 serious violations after OSHA inspectors found employees exposed to crystalline silica above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) and other hazards. Inspectors determined that the company failed to implement engineering and work practice controls to limit exposure to silica, provide and require the use of respirators, develop an exposure control plan and medical surveillance procedures, and train employees on OSHA’s silica standards. “Exposure to silica can cause health disorders, including kidney disease and lung cancer,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “Employers using products containing silica in their operations are required to take all precautions to ensure employees are protected from life-threatening diseases.”
    Penalty: $270,048 fine
  • A staffing agency was cited with one repeat violation and one serious violation for violations of the respirable crystalline silica and hazard communication standards. The employer failed to include respirable crystalline silica in its hazard communication program and failed to provide effective information and training on the hazardous chemicals in the work area. The repeat violation of the hazard communication standard carried a penalty of $47,350.
    Penalty: $53,043 fine

Roofing workers exposed to falls

Fall protection in construction continues to be the number-one OSHA violation, and roofing contractors receive the vast majority of these citations. As these three cases show, many employers have proven recalcitrant to enforcement efforts.

  • OSHA has cited the owner of a roofing company for willful, repeat and serious workplace safety violations at a jobsite in Springvale, Maine. OSHA initiated an inspection on May 23, 2019, in response to a complaint. Inspectors found three employees working on a two-story residential roof without fall protection. OSHA also cited the employer for allowing employees to work on scaffolds near energized power lines and using ladders with side rails that did not extend at least 3 feet above upper work surfaces. OSHA has inspected and cited the employer for safety violations seven times in the last seven years. “This employer’s ongoing defiance of the law continues to place his workers at risk for disabling and fatal injuries,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.
    Penalty: $278,456 fine
  • OSHA cited a residential roofing company for exposing employees to fall hazards at three separate Missouri job sites in May, June, and August 2019. OSHA inspectors issued safety violations at job sites in Wentzville, Grover, and St. Louis. Inspectors cited the company for failing to provide adequate fall protection for employees working at heights; train employees on fall safety hazards and procedures and the safe use of ladders; and provide personal protective equipment to employees using pneumatic nail guns. OSHA also alleges the company violated electrical safety standards and allowed the operation of an internal combustion engines in close proximity to a five-gallon gas can. OSHA also cited the company for failing to develop and maintain a safety program, a violation for which OSHA cited the company in 2014.
    Penalty: $205,098 fine
  • OSHA cited a roofing contractor for willful, repeat, and serious violations of safety regulations at multiple construction sites in Ohio. The company was cited for failing to install and require the use of a guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest system; failing to train workers on fall hazards; and failing to develop an accident prevention program. Additional citations were issued for unsafe ladder use and failing to require eye protection for employees operating pneumatic nail guns. The company has been cited five times for fall protection violations since 2008. “Falls continue to be the number one cited standard by OSHA,” said Kim Nelson, OSHA’s area director in Toledo. “Employers are expected to provide safe workplaces for their workers.”
    Penalty: $247,544 fine

Discount retailers still under scrutiny

OSHA continues to hit discount retailers hard with high-dollar penalties for blocked exit routes, unsafe storage, fire hazards, and more.

  • Following a complaint, OSHA inspected a discount retail location in Connecticut and cited the company with two repeat violations for exit and storage hazards. Inspectors found emergency exits blocked by rolling conveyor equipment and stored merchandise, boxes of products stacked unsafely, and tripping and fire hazards. The retailer has been cited multiple times for similar hazards at stores around the nation. “[The employer] has an extensive history of exposing workers to hazardous conditions,” said Dale Varney, OSHA’s area director in Hartford. “Improper storage of merchandise and blocked exit routes create unnecessary risks to workers and customers. This employer is legally responsible for ensuring workers are provided a safe workplace.”
    Penalty: $208,384 fine
  • OSHA cited a national discount retailer’s Alabama location for exposing employees to slip, trip, and fall hazards, unsafely stacked merchandise, struck-by hazards, and blocked emergency exits. According to OSHA, the employer failed to keep passageways and walking surfaces in a clean, orderly, and sanitary condition; allowed to cases of merchandise to be stacked unsafely; failed to address struck-by hazards; and permitted emergency exits to be blocked. The company has been cited multiple times for similar hazards since 2015 in several states.
    Penalty: $312,576 fine
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