Contractor Gets 2nd Confined-Space Case


Four months after settling 17 federal health and safety violations, a Kansas-based provider of railcar painting and maintenance services is facing a second case for similar issues.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued six new citations—three repeat and three serious—and proposed $133,900 in fines against Watco Investments LLC after a worker suffered respiratory inflammation while performing welding inside a railcar at one of the company's railcar shops in Omaha.

The Pittsburg, KS-based company (also known as Watco Companies Inc. and GBW Railcar Services LLC) specializes in painting, maintenance and repair of railcars, which are considered permit-required confined spaces. Watco also advertises compliance and inspection services.

The company, with 4,500 employees in the U.S., has operations across North America and Australia.

Appeal Planned

In February 2013, OSHA cited Watco for 17 violations and proposed $96,800 in fines after an inspection at a company facility in Hockley, TX. After an appeal, three serious citations were dropped and the case was closed May 30, 2014, with a $79,500 fine.

The company says it is changing its procedures and plans to contest the new case.

"Watco is in the process of implementing a new state of the art confined space program that OSHA was advised of when their inspection took place," Watco spokeswoman Tracie L. VanBecelaere said in an email Wednesday (Sept. 24).

GBW Railcar Services / Watco

Watco and its subsidiaries offer railcar coating, maintenance, compliance and inspection services.

"We will be contesting the citations based upon our prior commitment to develop and institute the new program."

Confined Space

Most of the new violations involve confined-space safety regulations, which were also cited in the prior case. Confined spaces are those that are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, but they are not designed for continuous occupancy. Confined spaces also have limited or restricted means for entry or exit.

OSHA initiated the inspection March 27, 2014, after receiving a report of the illness from the Nebraska Department of Labor Workers' Compensation Division. (The Workers' Comp investigation stemmed from an unrelated local emphasis program.)

The inspection found that Watco "allowed employees to enter rail cars to perform repair tasks, including welding, without implementing procedures required under OSHA's permit-required confined-space regulations," OSHA said.

"Confined spaces can put workers at risk for serious injury and illness," said Bonita Winingham, OSHA's area director in Omaha. "These spaces often have poor air quality and other serious hazards.

Confined spaces

Confined spaces are not designed for continuous occupancy and have limited means of entry and exit. Railcar interiors are considered confined spaces.

"Employers, such as Watco Companies, have a responsibility to train workers in the unique dangers of confined-space entry and to ensure spaces are safe for the work tasks performed."

Repeat, Serious Violations

The new OSHA citations include three repeat violations alleging failure to:

  • Implement training, procedures and practices for safe entry into confined spaces;
  • Evaluate for hazards; and
  • Provide workers with communication devices or implement measures to prevent unauthorized entry.

OSHA issues repeat violations if an employer was cited for the same or a similar violation in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

The new serious violations allege:

  • Failure to provide administrative and engineering controls to reduce noise exposure;
  • Electrical hazards; and
  • Lack of atmospheric controls in confined spaces.

Serious violations reflect life-threatening hazards that an employer knew, or should have known, about.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Australia; Confined space; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Protective Coatings; Railcars; Worker training

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