Before they began working on the inside of a railcar, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services checked its air quality and found there was a serious risk of an explosion. Rather than heed this warning, however, the company sent two of its employees, aged 41 and 45, inside the car anyway without monitoring the air for explosive hazards or providing them with respirators or emergency retrieval equipment.
Moments later, an explosion ripped apart the railcar and blew off its escape ladder, killing the two men and injuring a third.
Following the fatal April 2015 explosion, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched an investigation at the employers' Hickory Street, Pierce Street and South 30th Street sites in Omaha, Neb., where they found seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations. The company now faces $963,000 in penalties and has been placed in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
"Our hearts go out to the families of these workers, whose deaths were so senseless and preventable," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "This isn't the first time this employer put its workers' lives at risk, but OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure it is the last."
The egregious willful violations involve multiple instances of failing to properly monitor air quality in railcars, which qualify as confined spaces because they are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as cleaning and maintenance, but are not designed for continuous occupancy. OSHA safety guidelines require that employers evaluate confined spaces for air quality and other hazards prior to workers entering the area and then monitor conditions while they're inside. Additionally, the company failed to fit-test employees who were required to use respirators in railcars.
On top of the OSHA health and safety citations, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also currently investigating allegations that the company improperly disposed of hazardous waste.
Preventing incidents like this depends on more than simply identifying a addressing hazards, it requires a cultural shift. For help designing and implementing a behavior based safety program at your workplace, contact Safety Advantage today.