Articles | Cases

OSHA watch

2011: Shift in inspection priorities lead to higher fines

While the number of inspections dropped slightly in 2011 to 40,648 from 40,993 in 2010, fines for serious violations or workplace safety doubled to $2,132, from 2010's average of $1,053. In addition, the number of "Significant Cases," which are enforcement actions with fines of $100,000 or more, increased by more than 30 percent. According to the OSHA Law Update by Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. "the increase in the size of penalties and the number of Significant Cases can be traced back to key changes that OSHA made to its Field Operations Manual in October 2010. For instance, OSHA doubled the minimum penalty for serious violations, limited the Area Offices' freedom to reduce penalties during settlement conferences, and reduced allowable penalty reductions for clean OSHA history."

New PowerPoint for employers on high costs of falls in construction

A new OSHA PowerPoint (.ppt) presentation shows the heavy financial cost resulting from falls in construction. OSHA analyzed Workers' Compensation data for injuries resulting from falls from elevations suffered by roofers and carpenters. OSHA's analysis of fall injuries for roofers and carpenters found that: falls from elevations by roofers cost an average of approximately $106,000 each; falls from elevations by carpenters cost an average of over $97,000 each. For more information, view the PowerPoint presentation posted on OSHA's Residential Fall Protection Web page.

White paper on injury and illness prevention programs

A new white paper presents research in support of injury and illness prevention programs. OSHA estimates that implementation of the programs by employers who currently do not have one will reduce injuries by 15 percent to 35 percent. The paper concludes that effective injury and illness prevention programs emphasize ownership from the top, employee participation and fixing hazards, and can work for organizations of any size.

Recent fines and awards

$70,000 in fines proposed for recycling company after workers injured by rotating equipment - Massachusetts

Prolerized New England Co. LLC, doing business as Schnitzer Northeast, was cited for 10 alleged serious violations of workplace safety standards at its Everett recycling facility, where two workers were injured. Proposed penalties total $70,000. The employees were performing maintenance work inside a large rotating drum used to sort scrap material for recycling when the drum activated, injuring them. In response to the incident OSHA identified several serious deficiencies in the facility's hazardous energy control procedures, which should ensure machines are deactivated and their power sources locked out before employees perform maintenance work.

$148,000 in fines to Basic Marine Inc. in Escanaba - Michigan

Basic Marine Inc., a shipyard and boat fabricating facility in Escanaba, was cited for 32 - including five repeat - violations of safety and health standards. Proposed fines total $147,840. Among the repeat violations were failing to provide machine guarding to prevent inadvertent contact with an operating vertical band saw, failing to have a written hazard communications program and to train workers in hazard communications; failing to train workers in safety procedures for testing and entering enclosed, confined and other spaces that may have dangerous atmospheric conditions; and failing to annually fit test workers who wore respirators.

$90,000 in fines against manufacturer for repeat and serious safety hazards - New York

Gray Metal Products faces $90,000 in fines for alleged repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards at its plant in Avon. Hazards that were cited and corrected following a 2007 OSHA inspection reoccurred, including failure to periodically inspect all hazardous energy control procedures, not locking out machines' power sources during maintenance, not training employees in hazardous energy control procedures and several instances of unguarded moving machine parts. New violations included a damaged ladder and defective fall protection equipment, misused electrical equipment, exposed electrical conductors, lack of protective gloves, emergency eyewash, and inadequate hearing protection.

Violations of process safety management standards lead to proposed fines of $54,000 - Pennsylvania

QG LLC, a web offset printing company, was cited for eight serious violations of the process safety management standards at its Atglen facility in response to an employee complaint. The serious citations issued include failing to provide information pertaining to the equipment being used, establish written operating procedures and safe work practices, conduct employee training, conduct a pre-start up safety review, implement written procedures for ongoing integrity, develop procedures for management of change, certify that compliance was evaluated at least every three years, and ensure that installations of equipment in hazardous locations were intrinsically safe or approved for the hazardous location.

Manufacturer cited By OSHA for safety violations following fatality - Tennessee

Millersville-headquartered Dredge & Marine Co. LLC was cited for 12 safety and health violations following an incident in which one worker died and another was severely burned when a spark from a light ignited paint vapors inside the compartment of a pontoon dredge, which was being painted to reduce corrosion.

The violations included exposing employees to explosion and fire hazards when exhaust ventilation was inadequate and failing to use explosion-proof lighting, using an extension cord with a missing ground prong; exposing employees to explosion and fire hazards from a nonexplosion-proof fan with nonferrous blades; failing to ensure paint buckets, spray guns and cell phones were properly stored to prevent sparking; failing to permit the bonding of spray guns and metallic parts; and failing to provide fall protection to employees working from the barge deck. Proposed penalties for the citations total $46,600.

Piping Company slammed with $1M fines - Texas

In response to an employee complaint, an inspection resulted in13 willful and 17 serious violations for exposing workers to the risk of amputations and other serious injuries from dangerous machinery, as well as other hazards, at the Houston facility of Piping Technology and Products Inc. Proposed penalties total $1,013,000.

In addition to substantiating the lack of brakes on overhead cranes and unguarded presses, the inspection found that employees were permitted to cut metal I-beams and pipes without the proper machine guarding, which exposed them to possible severe injuries. Additionally, OSHA inspectors found that during machine maintenance, workers were exposed to the unexpected release of stored energy because of improper safeguards. Piping Technology had knowledge of OSHA requirements due to citations issued in 1986, 1994, 2004 and 2005 that specifically addressed the need to guard the band saws used in production processes. OSHA has placed Piping Technology in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

Unguarded machine leads to $105,000 in fines for manufacturer - Wisconsin

Eau Claire-based Curt Manufacturing LLC was cited with eight safety violations, including one willful violation for allowing workers to continue operating an unguarded hydraulic power press brake after an employee's thumb was crushed while he was bending a metal part between the unguarded dies of the brake. The thumb had to be medically amputated. The Eau Claire-based company was still operating the unguarded press brake when OSHA initiated an inspection based on a referral from the state of Wisconsin. Proposed fines total $105,000.

Whistleblower suits

Union Pacific ordered to reinstate whistle-blower, pay $300,000

Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad Co. was ordered to immediately reinstate an employee in Idaho who was terminated after reporting a work-related injury and pay the employee more than $300,000 in back wages, compensatory damages, attorney's fees and punitive damages. The employee filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA, alleging suspension without pay and then termination 23 days after notifying the company of an on-the-job injury. OSHA's investigation found reasonable cause to believe that the disciplinary charges and termination were not based on the complainant breaking a work rule but on the complainant reporting an injury to the railroad, in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act's whistleblower protection provisions. Union Pacific Railroad Co. will appeal.

AirTran Airways ordered to reinstate pilot, pay more than $1 million in back wages and damages

AirTran Airways, a subsidiary of Dallas, Texas-based Southwest Airlines Co., was ordered to reinstate a former pilot who was fired after reporting numerous mechanical concerns and pay more than $1 million in back wages plus interest and compensatory damages. An investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program found reasonable cause to believe that the termination was an act of retaliation in violation of the whistleblower provision of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, known as AIR21. According to the OSHA press release, the pilot's complaint alleged that the airline removed him from flight status on Aug. 23, 2007, pending an investigative hearing regarding a sudden spike in the pilot's mechanical malfunction reports, or PIREPS. The airline held an internal investigative hearing on Sept. 6, 2007, that lasted 17 minutes. Seven days later, the airline terminated the pilot's employment, claiming that he did not satisfactorily answer a question regarding the spike in reports.