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2 Fined for 38 Confined-Space Hazards

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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A temp staffing agency and contractor near Puget Sound, WA, are facing stiff fines for allegedly sending temporary workers into fuel tanks with no controls in place.

The investigation at a worksite in Fife resulted in 19 serious violations for SmartTalent LLC and 19 serious violations for Innovative Repairs LLC, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries announced. The violations are nearly identical.

SmartTalent's proposed fines total $120,400. The company has 15 business days to appeal. Innovative Repairs, which has already appealed its citation, was fined a total of $46,200.

tank cleaning and repair
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

"Entering confined spaces like fuel tanks without safety precautions in place can be deadly to workers and would-be rescuers. These type of incidents are fully preventable," L&I said.

According to L&I, there is a formula used to determine the size of the fine, which takes into account the size of the company, the number of workers exposed to the hazard, the company inspection history, and whether the the company acted in good faith.

"SmartTalent has more than 250 employees while Innovative Repairs has fewer than 25," Tim Church, Pubic Affairs Manager for L&I, explained in an email.

"That difference in size had the largest impact on the fine. Also, SmartTalent had up to 14 employees potentially exposed to the hazard while Innovative Repairs had one employee potentially exposed. That also played a role in the smaller fine for Innovative Repairs," Church said.

SmartTalent, headquartered in Kirkland, WA, is a staffing agency. Fife, WA-based Innovative Repairs services fuel tanks and containers for mining operations in Alaska.

Innovative Repairs did not respond Tuesday (April 7) to a request for comment.

SmartTalent said in an emailed statement: "[W]e are cooperating with the Department's investigation and we will be disputing the various citations assessed to SmartTalent."

Protecting Temporary Workers

Temporary workers are far more likely than permanent employees to be injured or killed on a job, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has said.

TempWorkersOSHA
OSHA

OSHA has been increasing its focus on protecting temporary workers, who are more likely than regular employees to be killed or injured on the job.

Thus, OSHA standards hold both staffing agencies and the host employer responsible for the safety of temporary workers, who are entitled to the same regulatory protections as regular employees.

In August 2014, OSHA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced new recommended practices for protecting temporary workers, citing "numerous preventable deaths and disabling injuries" among that population.

OSHA details requirements for protecting temporary workers on its website.

Confined Spaces

L&I launched its inspections last October after the state Department of Ecology notified the agency that workers were cleaning and servicing fuel tanks without proper safety procedures in place.

"Entering confined spaces like fuel tanks without safety precautions in place can be deadly to workers and would-be rescuers," the department said. "These type of incidents are fully preventable."

The fuel tanks were 20 feet long, eight feet wide and eight feet tall with a 20-inch entry hatch.

confined space entry
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Joe Mabel

SmartTalent's proposed fines total $120,400. The company has 15 days to appeal. Innovative Repairs, which has already appealed its citations, was fined $46,200 for nearly identical violations.

Workers climbed through the hatch and down a six-foot stepladder to clean inside the tanks, officials said.

Serious Violations

The violations allege failure to:

  • Ensure the use of eye and face protection;
  • Develop a written Chemical Hazard Communication program;
  • Inform and train employees about hazardous chemicals;
  • Identify a permit-required confined space, develop a written confined-space program, provide training and post warning signs;
  • Implement procedures for entry permits and ensure that permits are used;
  • Provide, maintain and use proper equipment for entering confined spaces;
  • Evaluate and control hazards for entering the spaces; and
  • Developing a non-entry rescue system for employees in confined spaces.

Innovative Repairs corrected all but one of the serious violations during the inspection, according to L&I. None of SmartTalents citations were corrected, L&I reported.

PPE Hazards

Both companies were also cited for four "general" violations, which do not assess a penalty. These allege failure to:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment for personal protective equipment;
  • Select and provide PPE to employees; and
  • Train employees in the use of the equipment.

Penalties paid for citations go to a workers' compensation supplemental pension fund to help workers and families of those who have died on the job.

 

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 8:40 a.m. ET April 8, 2015 to include information received from L&I.

   

Tagged categories: Confined space; Hazard Communication Standard (HCS); Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; Personal protective equipment; Tanks; Workers

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