Employers Fined $427,500 for Confined Space Violations

The alleged failure of three Hugo, Okla., companies to train employees and give them adequate gear for working inside confined spaces with unsafe air has resulted in proposed OSHA penalties totaling $427,500.

OSHA's Oklahoma City office began its investigation of R Repair Kar, Seaboard Container Cleaning and 1st Odyssey Group on Dec. 10, 2002 following complaints employees were entering and performing work inside railcars without adequate respiratory equipment. Several employees allegedly have suffered long-term illnesses due to the exposure.

"When untrained workers enter confined spaces with unsafe atmospheric conditions they can easily become captive victims," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "OSHA standards are clear. Workers must be trained to test the air to ensure it is safe before each and every time they enter a confined space."

R Repair Kar, a company that repairs railcar tanks and boxcars, filed for Chapter 11. Seaboard Container Cleaning Inc. assumed R Repair Kar's Hugo-based facility in April. The 1st Odyssey Group provides personnel services including on-site safety and health audits to R Repair Kar. Each company was cited with the same three alleged willful and nine alleged serious violations with a fine of $142,500 per company.

"All three companies had a hand in allowing the unsafe working conditions to continue," said James Brown, OSHA area director in Oklahoma City. "However, the Odyssey Group had the authority to put an immediate stop to this by removing its personnel from the hazards."

The three alleged willful violations were for failing to provide fall protection, failing to develop and implement an adequate respiratory protection program and failing to evaluate and implement permit required confined spaces as required by the OSHA regulations. OSHA issues a willful citation for a violation that shows disregard of or plain indifference to the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

Among the alleged serious violations were failure to ensure orderly walkways on an elevated walkway platform; unguarded floor openings; lack of a hearing conservation program; failure to ensure fit testing for workers wearing hearing protectors; failure to require the use of eye and face equipment for employees engaged in welding operations; failure to provide drinking water and failure to perform initial lead and cadmium exposure determination. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a violation about which the employer knew or should have known.

The companies have 15 days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the Oklahoma City area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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