The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a railcar cleaning company because OSHA asserts they knew there were hazards they did not address. As a result, two workers were killed when a railcar exploded.
On April 14th this year, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent employees into a railcar to work even though they had done an air quality check of the railcar right before and it determined there was a severe risk of an explosion. They did not continue to monitor the air quality as the employees were in there, without proper respirators or emergency retrieval equipment. The car exploded and the two employees were killed. A third employee was injured and is seeking workers’ comp benefits.
After OSHA investigated, the company was cited with seven egregious willful citations, three willful, 20 serious, one other than serious, and two repeat violations. That’s 33 citations in total, with proposed fines of $963,000. The company is also in the severe violator enforcement program which means they will be “checked-in” by OSHA more often and subject to follow-up inspections or inspections of other sites around the country if they have them, and an agreement to increase company awareness of OSHA policies.
OSHA gave the employer egregious willful violations because they did not properly monitor the air quality in a small space and did not ensure that employees had proper fitting respirators to use in the space. These are spaces that are not really meant for workers to be in them for a prolonged period so it is essential that workers who are there are kept safe. What is even more tragic about this accident is that the company had a history of violating safety protocols and knowingly put workers at risk before, and the deaths of these two workers may have been prevented had the company followed the rules. They have had five whistleblower complaints filed against them in the past, two of which are still under investigation.
They are being cited for other problems with electrical safety violations, failing to label hazardous chemicals, failing to train their workers in first aid and fire extinguisher use, failing to guard floor openings to prevent falls, and many other citations.
Nebraska Railcar Services is challenging the OSHA findings. They have launched their own investigation into what caused the explosion, and say that OSHA inspectors have not yet gone into the railcar to see what the cause was.