In early January, OSHA levied a $1.4 million fine against a Texas company following an employee fatality. While the size of the fine is notable (we are expecting to see more of these large fines), the cause of the fatality deserves notice.
According to the press release, in July 2009, “an employee cleaning a tank was killed in an explosion when an altered piece of equipment ignited flammable vapors inside the tank.” The investigators found that electrical equipment should not have been used inside the tank due to the presence of flammable and combustible vapors. We have seen similar issues when electrical equipment (such as radios and heat lamps) are used inside paint booths or prep stations, or near open-faced paint booths.
Since the employees were working inside a tank, it also demonstrates the importance of using confined space permits, monitoring air quality in confined spaces and making sure hot work (grinding, welding) is only done in appropriately controlled environments.
This employer had previously had two other fatalities—not at this specific facility, but others that the company owns. According to the press release: “The fatality was the third death in less than a year at this employer’s facilities; two hydrogen sulfide exposure-related deaths at a related facility, Port Arthur Chemical & Environmental Services LLC (PACES), occurred in December 2008 and April 2009.” Employers with multiple facilities can be cited for similar violations, regardless of the location.
For more information on confined spaces, handling OSHA inspections or other safety issues, please contact CHESS at 651-481-9787.