Saturday, March 18, 2023

OSHA Fines After Hydrogen Sulfide Death

This week the Department of Labor announced an OSHA citation for workplace safety violations discovered by OSHA after an employee was killed last September because of a hydrogen sulfide exposure while working near a sump pit at a West Texas oil and gas treatment facility. The OSHA assessed fines were slightly more than $39-thousand and included citing the company for:

• Exposing employees to inhalation hazards (H2S).

• Not training employees on hazards associated with hydrogen sulfide exposure.

• Failing to provide a quick body drench or eye flush station for employees in the immediate work area where corrosive materials were present.

• Not performing a hazard assessment to determine if personal protective equipment was needed.

• Failing to protect employees from fall hazards of more than 4 feet.

• Not protecting employees from contacting energized circuits.

Even though an employee died as a result of exposure to hydrogen sulfide at the facility, there is no record that a report was made to the Chemical Safety Board of the incident. The CSB’s database of reported chemical incident lists 12 release incidents in September of 2022, only one of which was from Texas (ExxonMobil in Houston, TX). There is no mention of this incident.

While the CSB is empowered to refer non-reporting of covered incidents to the EPA for enforcement actions under 42 USC 7413 and §7414 under 42 USC 7412(r)(6)(O), the CSB made it clear in the preamble to the final rule for 40 CFR 1604 that:

“The CSB understands that its independence from criminal and civil enforcement authorities is important to its ability to accomplish its safety mission. As noted in the preamble, the CSB's focus will be on education and compliance, not on creating traps for the unwary. Accordingly, the final language of § 1604.5 should pose no threat to the special place the CSB has historically held with industry and other stakeholders as a non-regulatory and non-enforcement agency. The CSB looks forward to working with owner/operators and other stakeholders to help ensure compliance.”

We are well past the one-year promised enforcement moratorium promised by the CSB, perhaps it is time to start considering referring companies that do not report chemical release incidents, at least the most egregious ones where deaths are a result of the release.

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