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$246K Fine Set in Blast that Burned 2

Monday, November 19, 2012

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A Texas oil and gas services company is facing nearly $250,000 in federal fines for an explosion that injured two tank cleaners shortly after the company was cited for similar hazards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Vann Energy Services LLC for 13 safety and health violations—including two willful and three repeat—for exposing workers to flash fires and other hazards at its maintenance facility in Nixon, TX. Proposed penalties total $246,000.

Those citations involve an accident May 16 in which two workers were burned in a fire that erupted in a hydraulic fracturing tank site they were cleaning. The victims were flown to a hospital in San Antonio, and their condition was not available later.

Firefighters from three companies fought the ensuing blaze.

Fracking Tanks
William Wilson / U.S. Forest Service

Federal inspectors examine a flowback tank used to temporarily store hydraulic fracturing fluids in the Fernow Experimental Forest.

Vann Energy provides trucking and oil field support services, including cleaning fracturing tanks, at the Nixon location. The company did not respond Friday (Nov. 16) to a request for comment.

Earlier Citations

The accident occurred scarcely three months after OSHA cited Vann for nearly identical hazards at the same facility.

In February, OSHA issued 17 serious violations and proposed $70,200 in fines after an August 2011 inspection that was triggered by a complaint about employees who were required to enter oil field hydraulic fracturing tanks for cleaning without receiving precautions about confined-space atmospheric hazards.

That case remains open.

The violations allege, among other things, failure to:

  • Implement a permit-required confined space entry program;
  • Provide proper respiratory protection;
  • Provide personal protective equipment, such as chemical-impervious gloves and footwear; and
  • Provide first-aid services and chemical hazard training.

Serious violations occur when there is substantial probability of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

"Vann Energy Services required workers to enter a fracturing tank for cleaning without testing the atmospheric hazards first and without training the workers on confined space hazards," Casey Perkins, director of OSHA's Austin Area Office, said at the time.

"Confined-space and electrical hazards like the ones found at this site can kill workers. It is fortunate these hazards were identified before anyone was seriously injured."

New Repeat, Willful Violations

In the inspection after the accident, OSHA inspectors found that Vann had failed to ensure that the air inside the tank was tested for flammable or toxic materials before allowing employees to use electrical equipment there.

Confined space warning

OSHA said that the company had failed to test the air inside the tank for flammable or toxic materials before allowing employees to use electrical equipment there.

The repeat violations include failing to provide eye and face protection, communicate chemical hazard information to workers, and protect flexible electric cords from damage. A repeat violation exists when an employer has been cited for the same or a similar violation within five years.

A willful violation is OSHA’s highest level of infraction, reserved for violations “committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.”

In this case, one willful violation involves failing to implement a respiratory protection program that includes an evaluation of respiratory hazards, medical evaluations for workers, fit testing, training, and the proper means to clean and store the respirators. The other involves failing to implement a permit-required confined-space entry program that includes atmospheric testing, proper written permits, a qualified attendant and rescue plans.

Serious Violations

Eight serious violations include failure to:

  • Ensure that electrical equipment such as a portable lamp is approved for hazardous locations;
  • Maintain electrical conductors and cords in a safe operating condition;
  • Train workers on the proper use of personal protective equipment;
  • Consult workers on confined-space entry procedures; and
  • Maintain fire extinguishers in a proper working condition.

The citations noted that workers were cleaning the inside of tanks contaminated with chemical residues from fracking and/or natural gas operations without protection from chemical splash hazards.

OSHA also said that employees “routinely” entered tanks contaminated with wastes, exposing them to lack of oxygen and inhalation of toxic gases, without an adequate respiratory protection program or written permit space program in place.

“The employer was notified in August 2011 of possible fire hazards, yet failed to take corrective action and ultimately two workers suffered the consequences,” Perkins said. “Failing to implement safety precautions and continuing to put workers’ lives at risk is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference, or contest the findings.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Confined space; Oil and Gas; OSHA; OSHA; Personal protective equipment; Regulations; Respiratory Protection Standard

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (12/7/2012, 9:39 AM)

Yep, after repeatedly ignoring the same hazards it is time for the fines to rise noticeably.

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