The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited another federal agency, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for serious safety violations. This is OSHA’s first use of the egregious violation policy in citing unsafe working conditions at a federal facility. The private sector penalty for some of these violations would exceed $1 million.
“Federal employers, just like private-sector employers, are responsible for knowing what hazards exist in their facilities and taking appropriate precautions to keep workers safe,” said Douglas Parker, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.
OSHA issued 21 notices of unsafe working conditions to the BLM’s Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit in Amarillo, Texas, a federal chemical production plant that refines and sells helium products to private entities. OSHA initiated its June 8, 2021, inspection after the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) received serious health and safety-related complaints from workers there.
The violations of process safety management procedures that were identified carry a private sector penalty of $1,023,987; however, monetary penalties are not assessed to federal agencies for failing to comply with OSHA standards. There were six willful safety violations for failing to train workers about the purpose and function of the facility’s energy control program and five willful egregious violations for failing to perform inspections and tests on process equipment.
In response to the OSHA report, BLM issued a statement explaining that production at the Amarillo facility was shut down for over three months last summer “to address safety-related operational protocols and bolster training.” Today, an interdisciplinary team at the Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit “continues to monitor operations to ensure our workers and the environment are protected.”