Examining the Top 10 OSHA violations
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Examining the Top 10

December 1, 2012

Changes have been occurring at OSHA in recent years.

More than two years ago, the agency replaced its program targeting chronic violators of OSHA standards with one officials hoped would lead more employers to take steps that go beyond simple hazard abatement. The agency has increased the number of press releases publicizing hefty fines or violations of less-common standards. And during the past couple of years, OSHA has been transitioning to a newer data collection system that officials believe will allow for better tracking and evaluation of data.

This new system – the OSHA Information System – supplied the data for this year’s list of the Top 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations. Because the agency is still in transition with the system, the data presented in this year’s annual Top 10 article should be considered preliminary, as it does not reflect all the violations issued during fiscal year 2012, which covers the period of Oct. 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2012.

However, not everything OSHA does can be summed up by what is presented in the Top 10 list. In an interview with Safety+Health, Patrick Kapust – deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs – explains how other changes at the agency are hopefully improving safety across the country. “Our emphasis is for employers to correct hazards,” Kapust said.



 



Q&A with Patrick Kapust

Patrick Kapust serves as deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, and leads a staff supporting OSHA’s mission of standards enforcement. He started with the agency in 1991 as a compliance safety and health officer. In October, Kapust spoke with Safety+Health Senior Associate Editor Kyle W. Morrison about recent changes OSHA has undertaken regarding its enforcement efforts.

S+H: The current administration has increased its use of press releases to publicize fines and penalties levied on employers, even when assessed penalties are as low as $7,000. Top OSHA officials – including David Michaels and Jordan Barab – have said these releases help incentivize other employers to abate hazards. Is OSHA seeing increased awareness of workplace hazards as a result?

Patrick Kapust: OSHA generally issues press releases for larger enforcement cases. But we also have another kind of criteria – our “novel” enforcement cases. These are the cases where we anticipate media attention, or that we want to make other employers aware of.

In addition to traditional methods such as press releases, OSHA is using new online social media to communicate our message about worker safety and health. I think we are seeing encouraging results – more hits on our webpages (more than 200 million visits last year alone) and downloads of applications we’ve developed and more requests for information from our field offices.

Senior Associate Editor Kyle W. Morrison (left) and OSHA's Patrick Kapust announce OSHA's Top 10 most cited violations at the 2012 NSC Congress & Expo in Orlando, FL.

S+H: So this publicity is not merely to shame employers that were cited, but to offer a lesson that other employers may not necessarily be aware of?

Kapust: Our emphasis is for employers to correct hazards. Because OSHA can only reach a small number of workplaces in the country every year, the information contained in press releases serves an important educational and deterrent purpose for other companies in the same industry and geographical area. They also serve to bring attention to important novel enforcement cases. Some enforcement actions may not carry large penalties, but may be a case that the public should know about. For example, a workplace violence General Duty Clause case would be a novel case, and that could be a $7,000 or even lower violation because it’s just one single violation.

S+H: Two-and-a-half years ago, OSHA implemented its Severe Violator Enforcement Program to replace the Enhanced Enforcement Program. What effect has this change had on compliance?

Kapust: The Severe Violator Enforcement Program encourages employers to comply with our standards and abate various hazards. Employers cited with multiple high-gravity willful or repeat violations, or failure-to-abate notices related to the high-emphasis hazards, would be brought into the program. Once employers are placed in SVEP, we do follow-up inspections and conduct inspections at other locations when we have reasonable grounds to believe non-compliance may be systematic. As of Sept. 30, we’ve had 209 SVEP cases.

S+H: How does this program compare to its predecessor?

Kapust: We are undergoing a study of SVEP to evaluate the program’s implementation – such as the number of referrals and follow-up visits. The program that preceded this was criticized by the Office of Inspector General for, among other items, failing to conduct follow-up visits where possible. We’re also looking at how SVEP affects companies with fixed sites compared with construction companies that are not going to be staying at the same site and may be difficult to follow up on.

S+H: Are you seeing some movement out of the program, or improvements from those employers in the program?

Kapust: An employer is not eligible to be removed from the program until after three years. Right now, we’re only two-and-a-half years into the program, so no one is eligible to be removed yet. I think the program is having an impact. Given the three years employers have to remain in SVEP during which they cannot have any violations of the same sort that put them into the program, we’re hoping employers will not only comply with OSHA standards, but also start implementing other enhancements, such as third-party safety and health consultation at their workplaces.

S+H: Along with increased issuance of press releases on penalties and fines, OSHA seems to be pursuing more corporatewide settlement agreements to abate hazards. Does OSHA plan to continue this, and how often does this occur?

Kapust: We are going to continue to pursue corporatewide settlement agreements. We feel that it is a highly effective tool for us to ensure companies address hazards that can seriously injure or kill their workers throughout their worksites. Corporatewide settlement agreements require the kind of widespread change within a corporation – beyond simple compliance with OSHA standards – that can go a long way in keeping workers across the country safe and healthy. We currently have about 14 corporatewide settlement agreements, but we are in the process of negotiating others.

S+H: What are you finding by using this as a leverage tool?

Kapust: A lot of companies are coming to us and wanting to enter a corporatewide settlement agreement where they’ll abate all the hazards throughout their corporation. But there has to be a little bit more than that. Companies already are required to abate their hazards and meet our standards. For a corporatewide settlement agreement, we look at what kind of enhancements they are willing to provide. For example, I was involved in corporatewide settlement agreement where the employer retained a third party to monitor compliance at their worksites to ensure they maintain a safe and healthful workplace. They also agreed to provide us reports on their progress.

S+H: Do corporatewide settlement agreements create any legal hurdles?

Kapust: When we enter into them federally, they only cover federal OSHA states. We let the State Plan states know that we’ve entered into a corporatewide settlement agreement, and we encourage them to do so, too. If a state decides to enter in the same agreement with that corporation, then they would be able to enforce it as in the State Plan. But it’s still up to the state whether they want to adopt or negotiate the corporatewide settlement agreement with the employer.

S+H: Regarding this year’s Top 10 list, OSHA is in transition between two different data systems – the OSHA Information System has replaced its Integrated Management Information System. Tell us about the reasons for this transition.

Kapust: OSHA needed to update its systems to replace its aging IMIS system and to have a more robust web-based information management tool that would allow us to have a better ability to manage, track and evaluate data. That is critical to the operations at OSHA, and to help with our long-term planning. Right now, all the federal offices in OSHA have transferred over to OIS, and it will be deployed to State Plan states in the future.

S+H: Will there be any impact on employers?

Kapust: Employers will be able to access the data the same way they’ll be able to access IMIS data. The combined OIS and IMIS data is available on the Department of Labor and OSHA websites. They’ll be able to access it pretty much in the same fashion they’re able to now.



Penalty Box

The list of OSHA’s highest proposed monetary penalties in fiscal year 2012 comprises penalties stemming from a single incident or related incidents in which one or more companies are alleged to have failed to adhere to safe work practices. This failure puts workers at risk – in some cases fatally. The following information was provided by OSHA.

Note: These fines represent proposed penalties issued by OSHA between Oct. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012; dollar amounts may be reduced as part of a settlement or litigation.


$1.01 million

Company: Piping Technology and Products Inc.
Location: Houston (OSHA Region 6)
Business type: Manufacturer

Inspection trigger: Worker complaint
Event: Following an employee’s allegation of a lack of brakes on overhead cranes and unguarded presses, OSHA inspected the facility and substantiated the claims. Inspectors also found a lack of proper guarding when employees cut metal I-beams and pipes, and improper safeguards that exposed employees to unexpected releases of stored energy during machine maintenance.
Major citations: Thirteen willful violations were cited related to failure to guard and lock out equipment before maintenance. An additional 17 serious violations involved failure to guard other machines, ensure openings on electrical equipment were closed, and provide fall protection training, among other violations. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“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.” – OSHA administrator David Michaels

$758,450

Company: All-Feed Processing & Packaging Inc.
Location: Galva, IL (OSHA Region 5)
Business type: Pet food production and packaging

Inspection trigger: Not provided
Event: Having inspected the facility 10 times since 2000 and issued citations on five occasions, OSHA obtained a warrant in May 2011 to conduct an inspection, during which numerous alleged violations were found.
Major citations: A total of 23 citations were issued at the facility, including 13 willful citations for failure to mandate the use of respirators, protect dust collection units and require employees to work in areas with dust levels beyond permissible exposure limits, as well as a lack of an effective hearing ?conservation program, among others. Four repeat citations were issued for powered industrial truck violations, and for failing to posts signs indicating the presence of combustible dust and warning employees of potential dangers posed by workspaces involving hazardous conditions. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“Even after a powerful dust explosion and fire at this facility in 2009, along with a number of citations previously issued for similar conditions, All-Feed Processing & Packaging fails to comply with safety and health requirements.” – OSHA administrator David Michaels

$702,300

Company: Tribe Mediterranean Foods
Location: Taunton, MA (OSHA Region 1)
Business type: Food manufacturer

Inspection trigger: Worker death Event: A contract worker who was cleaning and sanitizing a machine used in the manufacture of hummus was pulled into the machine and fatally crushed.
Major citations: The Nestle SA subsidiary was cited for nine willful violations, including lockout/tagout and failure to adequately train maintenance workers to recognize hazardous energy sources. Also issued were citations for three repeat violations involving failure to conduct inspections on energy control procedures and citations for six violations that included machine guarding hazards. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“The employer knew it needed to train these workers so they could protect themselves against just this type of hazard but failed to do so. The result was a needless and avoidable loss of life.” – OSHA administrator David Michaels

$589,200

Company: DeMoulas Supermarkets Inc., doing business as Market Basket
Location: Rindge and Concord, NH (OSHA Region 1)
Business type: Grocery store

Inspection trigger: Worker injury
Event: A worker fell 11 feet onto a concrete floor from an alleged inadequately guarded storage mezzanine at the Rindge facility, sustaining broken bones and head trauma. Instead of calling for emergency help, management placed the injured worker in a wheelchair and had him wait in the store’s receiving dock for a relative to take him to the hospital. The Concord facility was inspected after an OSHA supervisor observed similar fall hazards at that location while shopping.
Major citations: Citations were issued for four willful violations that involved fall and laceration hazards. Seven repeat violations were issued for similar hazardous conditions found at several other store locations, including lack of bloodborne pathogen training, amputation hazards and inadequate training for powered industrial truck operators. The company also received citations for 19 serious violations that included the General Duty Clause, obstructed exit routes and lack of chemical hazard training for workers. OSHA later ordered the company to address hazards at all Market Basket locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“This employer has been cited for similar conditions at numerous other stores. Although those individual hazards were abated, this employer has not taken effective steps to correct these hazards across the board.” – OSHA administrator David Michaels

$480,000

Company: Welch Group Environmental LLP
Location: Delray Beach, FL (OSHA Region 4)
Business type: Gun range cleaning and lead recovery services

Inspection trigger: National and Regional Emphasis Programs for lead
Event: An inspection found that Welch Group Environmental, which was contracted by Delray Shooting Center to clean a shooting range and reclaim lead, knowingly neglected to protect workers from lead overexposure.
Major citations: Citations for 11 willful violations were issued involving failure to provide employees with a respirator fit-test and training, failure to use engineering controls, failure to provide eye and head protection, and failure to monitor lead levels in workers’ blood. Four serious violations were issued for failure to provide workers with their blood-lead level results and provide appropriate respirators when workers were exposed to lead greater than 10 times the maximum concentration. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“The management of Welch Group Environmental acknowledged awareness of OSHA’s lead standards and the dangers associated with lead exposure but continued to allow hazards to exist, exposing employees to serious health risks.” – Darlene Fossum, OSHA area director in Fort Lauderdale, FL

$473,000

Company: Raani Corp.
Location: Bedford Park, IL (OSHA Region 5)
Business type: Health care product manufacturer

Inspection trigger: Worker death
Event: A high-temperature water and a solution erupted while a worker was beneath an open tank hatch, resulting in fatal burn injuries. The employer is accused of failing to call 911 and neglecting to wash the worker at an available safety shower. More than 30 minutes after the injury occurred, the worker was taken to a local clinic in a coworker’s vehicle.
Major citations: Six willful violations were cited for failure to use available medical care; provide, require and train workers on protective clothing proper use; provide eye, face and hand protection; and provide hazard communication training. Citations also were issued for seven serious violations that included failure to perform a personal protective equipment assessment, correct an improperly guarded platform, and enclose live parts of electrical equipment. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“Failing to provide protective equipment and hazard communication training shows zero commitment to worker safety and health.” – Greg Baxter, acting regional administrator in Chicago

$469,420

Company: SW Steel (USA) Inc.
Location: Baytown, TX (OSHA Region 6)
Business type: Steel manufacturer

Inspection trigger: Worker complaints
Event: Following several worker complaints, a safety inspection and a concurrently conducted inspection as part of OSHA’s Site-Specific Targeting Program resulted in numerous alleged violations.
Major citations: Citations were issued for repeat violations that included failure to provide covers for open pits and floor holes, conduct inspections for lockout/tagout procedures, ensure readily available fire extinguishers and provide machine guarding. Serious violations included failure to guard open-sided platforms, adequately secure compressed gas cylinders and ensure the use of personal protective equipment. A variety of electrical hazards also were found and cited. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“This company has operated in a way that disregards the safety and health of its employees.” – John Hermanson, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas

$468,000

Company: Boomerang Tube LLC
Location: Liberty, TX (OSHA Region 6)
Business type: Tube manufacturer

Inspection trigger: Worker complaint/worker injury
Event: During a five-month period, three workers were seriously injured. One was caught in an operating machine; one month after that, another worker was struck by a piece of steel and knocked into a concrete pit. Four months later, a worker was caught in machinery.
Major citations: Six willful violations were cited, included failure to repair a damaged under-hung crane, ensure the use of lockout/tagout and provide machine guarding. Citations for serious violations included failure to ensure a facility free of trip and fall hazards and ensure loads remain under the rated capacity of industrial trucks.
“This employer jeopardized the safety of its employees by failing to follow OSHA’s safety standards for energy control procedures and machine guarding. It is very unfortunate that these workers were so seriously injured when the causes should have been prevented.” – John Hermanson, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas

$463,350

Company: Altura Concrete Inc., Nathil Corp., White Diamonds Properties LLC, and Blade Contracting Inc.
Location: Jersey City, NJ (OSHA Region 2)
Business type: Contractors

Inspection trigger: Not provided
Event: During an inspection, compliance officers observed construction workers without personal fall protection or a fall protection system on the fourth floor of a 20-story building.
Major citations: Altura and Nathil were concrete contractors for the foundation and superstructure. Both were cited for five willful violations including failure to protect workers from fall hazards. Nine serious citations were issued to the companies for violations including failure to provide personal protective equipment, failure to provide railings on stairs, and unprotected protruding rebar. General contractor White Diamonds Properties received citations for two willful violations involving failure to protect workers from fall hazards and for five serious violations that included improper storage of compressed gas cylinders and lack of drawings for shoring/reshoring onsite. Blade Contracting, a masonry contractor, was cited for three violations of protecting employees from fall hazards and scaffold use.
“A project of this magnitude clearly needs an aggressive injury and illness prevention plan in place to prevent falls and other hazards.” – Robert Kulick, OSHA regional administrator in New York

$422,600

Company:Bridgford Foods Corp.
Location: Dallas (OSHA Region 6)
Business type: Frozen food producer

Inspection trigger: Not provided
Event: During an inspection, several alleged violations of noise and energized machine hazards were found.
Major Citations: Citations for six repeat violations were issued, including failure to provide electrical equipment hazard training, establish and maintain an audiometric testing program, and provide employee hearing protection training. Twenty serious violations included failure to provide guardrails on mixers, ovens and ice machines; lack of machine guarding; failure to develop energy control procedures for machinery with multiple energy sources; and not ensuring employees were trained on energy control procedures. The company was subsequently placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“Bridgford Foods has a history of failing to implement necessary safety and health programs to prevent the unexpected start-up of machines and prevent hearing loss.” – John Hermanson, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas