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Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1910.106; 1910.106(b)(6); 1910.1000

June 5, 2003

Mr. Garland Latham
Managing Director
ThawTec Inc.
2468 Cortland Ave.
Grand Junction, CO 81506

Dear Mr. Latham:

Thank you for your October 30, 2002 letter requesting information with respect to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations that may apply to oil and gas and/or oil field water truck companies that use propane torches. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence. Our responses to your paraphrased questions are provided below. We apologize for the delay in responding.

Question 1: If I am injured or killed at a worksite due to the lack of an available safety device that the company did not provide, what does the OSHA Law state?

Response: An employer's liability under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the "Act") depends on whether the employer failed to comply with an occupational safety and health standard [Section 5(a)(2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(2)], or, in the absence of a standard, whether the employer has failed to provide employment and a place of employment free from recognized serious hazards [Section 5(a)(1) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(1)]. The relevance of an employer's failure to provide and use an available safety device is addressed in our response to Question 2.

Question 2: What is the safety regulation pertaining to new and/or available safety devices, and companies neglect to provide them?

Response: Many of OSHA's standards prescribe very specific forms of abatement and are not worded in such a way that allow employers much leeway. Other standards use performance language or call for the use of "feasible" means of abatement. When, in the absence of an applicable standard, Section 5(a)(1) of the Act (the General Duty Clause) applies, the extent of the employer's duty under that provision similarly depends on whether there are feasible means of abatement that will prevent or correct the hazardous condition in question. Therefore, whenever there is a requirement to use feasible means of abatement, an employer who has used an older, less protective form of abatement when it would have been reasonable and feasible to use a newer, significantly more effective method of abatement might be citable under the applicable standard or, if no standard applies, the General Duty Clause.

Question 3: What is the OSHA regulation pertaining to thawing ice with propane torches around combustible oil fields, and to the use of open flames near oil field condensate (drip gas) fluids and oil field production water?

Response: Although there is no specific OSHA rule addressing the issue of thawing ice with propane torches, the OSHA rule at 29 CFR 1910.106(b)(6) (copy enclosed), which prohibits the use of open flames in areas containing flammable vapors, will apply. According to the standard, "[a]dequate precautions shall be taken to prevent the ignition of flammable vapors. Sources of ignition include but are not limited to open flames; lightning; smoking; cutting and welding; ..." In situations where there is no specific OSHA standard that addresses a workplace hazard that is serious in nature, employers (as noted in our response to Question 1) are still obligated, under Section 5(a)(1) of the Act, in protecting their employees from such hazards.

Question 4: What is the OSHA safety regulation pertaining to carbon monoxide exhaust in the workplace? Should vehicle exhaust be used as a handheld tool for heating or any other purpose if employees are breathing the exhaust?

Response: 29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1 provides the limits for air contaminants. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide is 50 parts per million (ppm), averaged over an eight hour exposure period. It is the employer's responsibility to determine the extent of employee exposure to carbon monoxide, or any other hazardous substances.

There is no OSHA requirement that prohibits the use of a hand held tool directing a vehicle's exhaust for the purposes of heating and thawing. However, it is the employer's responsibility to take adequate precautions to prevent the ignition of flammable vapors as described under 1910.106(b)(6), or overexposure to hazardous substances.

Question 5: Does OSHA consider oilfield production water fluid a combustible hazard? What is the OSHA safety regulation?

Response: Oilfield production water would be considered combustible if it meets the definition of a combustible liquid as described under 29 CFR 1910.106 (copy enclosed). Under 1910.106, a combustible liquid means any liquid having a flashpoint at or above 100º F (37.8º C) and a flammable liquid means any liquid having a flash point below 100º F.

Question 6: Does OSHA require any company to use a particular safety device if available?

Response: As we indicated in our response to Question 1, it is the employer's responsibility to protect its employees from workplace hazards through providing appropriate methods of hazard control. Additionally, as you noted in your letter, OSHA does not approve, endorse, or recommend products to be used in the workplace.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at
http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.


Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs


Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents

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