Sept. 21, 2015
US Army Corps of Engineers workers face unsafe conditions at Soo Locks
OSHA issues 21 serious, 2 repeated violations; Corps ignores report calling for repairs
SAULT SAINTE MARIE, Mich. - As crane operators at Michigan's historic Soo Locks operated a lattice boom crawler and a barge-mounted crane in disrepair, they faced dangers from multi-ton loads because their employer ignored a September 2014 report from a crane inspection contractor that demanded immediate equipment repairs.
After an inspection of the facility, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 21 for 21 serious and two repeated violations. A federal agency, the Corps is a part of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Workers also faced dangerous confined space hazards when they accessed the main service tunnel adjacent to the St. Lawrence Seaway, and other spaces used to maintain equipment at Soo Locks, a national landmark.
"It can be lethal to expose crane operators to heavy loads and to allow workers to enter tunnels and other confined spaces without proper training," said Larry Johnson, director of OSHA's Lansing Area Office. "Like private employers, federal agencies must correct safety and health deficiencies immediately. Failing to do so is inexcusable."
Many workplaces have confined spaces not necessarily designed for people, but large enough for workers to enter and perform jobs, such as maintenance and repair. A confined space also has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.
OSHA found that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to designate the tunnel, oil tank, well pump, power house turbines and various pits as permit-required confined spaces. The Corps also failed to train workers on hazards, post warning signs, issue entry permits and practice emergency rescue operations for these spaces.
The repeated violations were for improperly closing unused openings in electrical panels and failing to provide eyewash stations. OSHA cited the Army Corps of Engineers previously for these hazards at sites in New York and Alaska in 2011 and 2014.
In addition to the serious crane violations, OSHA found the Corps failed to:
- Secure suspended scaffolds correctly.
- Guard floor openings.
- Provide stairway handrails.
- Store gas cylinders properly.
- Provide training on using fire extinguishers.
- Periodically inspect slings, cranes and other equipment.
- Protect workers from machinery operating parts.
- Provide adequate respiratory protection.
OSHA initiated the March 2015 programmed inspection at Soo Locks as part of its fiscal year 2015 Region V Federal Agency Local Emphasis Program. It was the first inspection at the facility.
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Located in Sault Ste. Marie, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Soo Area Office employs 100 workers and 37,000 worldwide.
Unlike the private sector, OSHA does not impose penalties on federal agencies. However, the equivalent private-sector penalty for these violations would be $124,020. The agency has 15 business days from receipt of OSHA's notice to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report amputations, eye loss, workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Lansing Area Office at 517- 487-4996.
Under Section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and Executive Order 12196, the head of each agency is responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for his or her employees. OSHA's role is to ensure the safety and health of all federal employees by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
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Release Number: 15-1821-CHI
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