Multiple serious safety and health violations involving temporary workers at a work site in Fife, Wash., have resulted in Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) citations and fines for two Western Washington businesses – Smarttalent LLC of Kirkland and Innovative Repairs LLC of Fife.
An investigation found that the temporary workers were entering fuel tanks with no controls in place to ensure their health and safety. Entering confined spaces like fuel tanks without safety precautions in place can be deadly to workers and would-be rescuers. These types of incidents are fully preventable, noted L&I.
Smarttalent was cited for 19 serious violations and fined $120,400. Innovative Repairs also was cited for 19 serious violations and fined $46,200. The difference in the penalty amounts reflects the size of the employers, the number of workers exposed and the employer’s good faith efforts to comply.
Smarttalent is a staffing agency that provides temporary workers to Innovative Repairs, which services fuel tanks and containers for mining operations in Alaska.
The inspections began in October last year after the state Department of Ecology notified L&I that workers were entering the fuel tanks to clean and service them and that no safety procedures were being used.
The fuel tanks were 20 feet long by 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall, with a 20-inch entry hatch on top. To clean inside the tanks, the workers climbed through the hatch and down a 6-foot stepladder.
Entering fuel tanks exposes workers to confined-space hazards that can include suffocation, toxic atmospheres, engulfment, entrapment or other dangerous conditions. It also puts rescuers in danger.
When a confined space has one or more hazardous characteristics that could harm workers, it’s considered a permit-required confined space. That means employers must control access to the area and use a permit system to prevent unauthorized entry. Anyone working in or around a permit-required confined space must be trained and there must be safety measures and rescue procedures in place.
The companies also were cited for violations related to hazardous chemical recognition and training.
Innovative Repairs has appealed the citation, and Smarttalent has 15 working days to appeal. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.