OSHA proposes more than $1 million in fines for willful, serious violations
The U.S. Dept of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Piping Technology and Products Inc. for 13 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 company’s Houston facility. Proposed penalties total $1,013,000.
“Repeatedly ignoring the law while risking workers’ lives and providing misleading information to federal investigators will not be tolerated,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Employers who endanger the lives and limbs of their employees must be held accountable.”
A worker at Piping Technology contacted OSHA earlier this year, alleging a lack of brakes on overhead cranes and unguarded presses at the company’s facility on Holmes Road. This complaint triggered an investigation by OSHA’s Houston South Area Office. In addition to substantiating the complaint items, 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 deliberately exposed its workers who operate band saws and other dangerous machinery to amputation hazards while misleading OSHA investigators about the use of these machines,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.
The willful violations involve the failure to guard seven band saws and to lock out all of the sources of hazardous energy to six pieces of equipment before service and maintenance. Each of the 13 citations carries a penalty of $70,000, for a total of $910,000. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.
The 17 serious violations, with penalties totaling $103,000, involve the failure to guard other machines and grinders properly, ensure that openings on electrical equipment were securely closed, provide fall protection training and ensure that employees wore hard hats when exposed to overhead hazards. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
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. In 2004 and 2005, OSHA cited the company with penalties totaling $82,500 and $33,000, respectively, for a variety of workplace hazards that included lockout/tagout violations.
OSHA has placed Piping Technology in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. Initiated in June 2010, the program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. For more information on SVEP, visit http://s.dol.gov/J3.
The citations can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Piping-tech-prod-312928344-1228-11.pdf.
Piping Technology and Products has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
– Edited by Chris Vavra, Plant Engineering, www.plantengineering.com