The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the nature of work in many industries and brought renewed attention to the importance of workplace safety, but OSHA continues to carry out inspections and issue citations to employers that expose workers to hazardous conditions. We’ve summarized some of the key enforcement cases from the past few months for a look at where OSHA is focusing its efforts.
Contractor cited following trench collapse
OSHA cited a Missouri contractor for violations of trenching and excavation standards after an employee suffered severe injuries when a 20-foot trench collapsed during excavation. OSHA cited the company for three willful and four serious violations. The company was cited for failing to use adequate trench protective systems, permitting employees to ride in the bucket of hydraulic excavators, allowing water to accumulate in the floor of the trench, failing to provide a safe means of egress from the trench, failing to protect workers from struck-by hazards, and failing to place excavated soil piles an adequate distance from trench edges. The company has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Penalty: $224,459 fine
Manufacturer fails to correct hazards
A manufacturer of shipping supplies was cited for failing to abate previously identified hazards at its New Jersey facility following an OSHA inspection. In June 2019, OSHA cited the company after an attempt to clear a jammed machine resulted in amputation of a worker’s fingers. Inspectors found the company had failed to develop and implement a lockout/tagout program to address the unexpected startup of a machine during service and failed to provide proper machine guarding. When the company failed to provide OSHA with verification that the hazards had been corrected, the agency initiated a follow-up inspection.
Penalty: $259,760 fine
Shipyard fatality leads to citations
OSHA cited a South Carolina shipyard for failing to protect employees from struck-by and fall hazards after an employee suffered fatal injuries when a shackle fatally struck the employee during a lifting operation. The shipyard was cited for failing to ensure employees used a fall protection system when working at heights, failing to retrain employees exposed to fall hazards, and exposing employees to caught-between hazards by allowing them to enter between a guardrail and a rudder shaft while it was being lifted.
Penalty: $37,591 fine
Fatal fall leads to six-figure fines
After a worker fatally fell from a residential roof at an Alabama worksite, OSHA cited the roofing contractor that employed the worker with a willful violation. The contractor was cited for failing to ensure that employees used fall protection and failing to report an inpatient hospitalization within 24 hours and a fatality within 8 hours as required. “Allowing employees to work at heights without using proper fall protection methods increases the risk of serious or fatal injuries,” said Jose Gonzalez, OSHA’s Mobile Area Director. “Employers have an obligation to ensure the working conditions are free of hazards.”
Penalty: $138,118 fine
Company fined following fire, explosion
OSHA cited a Texas chemical manufacturer with three willful violations and nine serious violations following the agency’s investigation after a November 2019 fire and explosion. The willful violations, all related to process safety management deficiencies, were issued for failing to develop and implement procedures for emergency shutdown, failing to inspect and test process vessel and piping components, and failing to correct deficiencies in equipment before further use. “Employers are required to conduct regular inspections and address potential hazardous conditions associated with chemical processes to prevent catastrophic events from occurring,” said Loren Sweatt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “OSHA has extensive resources available to help employers and workers understand requirements for process safety management.”
Penalty: $514,692 fine
Employee asphyxiated while handling liquid nitrogen
A South Dakota bull stud facility was cited and fined for exposing workers to hazardous chemicals and toxic substances after an employee asphyxiated from lack of oxygen due to the use of liquid nitrogen in the facility. Inspectors found that employees filled containers daily and cryogenic freezers weekly with liquid nitrogen. OSHA determined that the company failed to implement safety measures, such as oxygen monitoring or ventilation, to ensure that the rapidly expanding liquid nitrogen did not displace the oxygen in the room. In addition, the company failed to train employees on potential health and physical hazards of working with nitrogen gas and on how to detect the accumulation and release of the gas. OSHA cited the employer with two willful and three serious violations.
Penalty: $122,602 fine
Two contractors cited after aerial lift fatality
Two contractors were cited for failing to protect employees from fall hazards at a Florida construction site after an employee’s 20-foot fatal fall from an aerial lift. OSHA cited the employers for failing to ensure the use of a fall protection system to protect workers on an aerial lift, failing to train employees to recognize and avoid fall hazards, and failing to develop and implement an accident prevention program .One of the contractors was also cited for failing to report a hospitalization within 24 hours and a fatality within 8 hours as required. “Allowing employees to work at heights without using proper fall protection methods increases the risk of serious or fatal injuries,” said Juan Torres, OSHA’s Acting Fort Lauderdale Area Director. “Employers have an obligation to ensure the working conditions they ask employees to operate under are free of recognized hazards.”