After several U.S. Department of Labor workplace safety and health investigations at the East Palestine, Ohio, site where a Norfolk Southern Corp. train derailed in February 2023, the train’s operator has entered into a settlement agreement with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
On Feb. 2, 2023, the train derailment caused a 49 railcar pile-up, including 11 tank cars of hazardous chemicals. The chemicals ignited and the pile-up burned for several days.
In response to a referral from the U.S. Department of Transportation, OSHA opened enforcement inspections on March 2, 2023, to assess the union’s concerns for the health of workers rebuilding tracks and conducting clean-up operations near the derailment site.
Under the terms of the settlement, Norfolk Southern agreed to do the following:
- Implement a medical surveillance program for all affected employees who worked at the derailment site.
- Provide union employees with 40 hours of Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training for future derailments.
- Create a training program on lessons learned from the Ohio derailment.
- Pay penalties assessed by OSHA for four safety health violations.
“This agreement will improve the safety and health controls in place for Norfolk Southern employees who responded and help educate the rail operator’s employees on the lessons learned so they are prepared should another emergency occur,” explained OSHA Area Office Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland, in a statement. “We are pleased by the collaborative safety and health efforts of Norfolk Southern Corp, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division and contractors from the clean-up site who have been working together on this site remediation.”
OSHA will continue to work closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other federal, state and local officials to protect workers’ safety and health as clean-up operations continue.
OSHA’s investigations included personal and area air samplings for workers involved in site and water cleanup, including Norfolk Southern employees installing new railroad tracks at the site.
The agency also opened enforcement inspections of CTEH, an environmental consulting firm, and two other companies on site for the cleanup — Specialized Professional Services of Washington, Pennsylvania and Hepaco Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina — to investigate complaints about workers exposed to chemicals as they cleaned up nearby creeks where spills killed fish. OSHA issued a citation to Specialized Professional Services for inadequate control of the site and decontamination areas, which they immediately corrected. OSHA did not cite CTEH or Hepaco.
OSHA also opened an inspection in response to reports employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became ill after visiting area homes on March 6, 2023, but issued no citations.
After completing its inspections, OSHA issued Norfolk Southern citations on Aug. 2, 2023, for four violations and proposed $49,111 in penalties. The violations primarily related to work conducted on Feb. 4, 2023, as crews constructed track panels and laid them out on the south tracks, west of the spill location. Norfolk Southern abated the hazards immediately. Specifically, OSHA issued citations to the company for the following:
- Not developing an emergency response plan that included clear lines of authority, communication and training, site security, adequate site control and decontamination areas.
- Failing to require workers to wear chemical resistant footwear when walking on contaminated soil.
- Allowing employees without respiratory protection to pour cement on potentially contaminated soil.
- Not training workers about hazardous chemicals.
In addition to OSHA’s enforcement role, the agency joined the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA in a unified command structure to oversee site clean-up since the derailment. OSHA has also worked with the Department of Transportation and its Federal Railroad Administration in a non-enforcement role since Feb. 20, 2023.