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Region 1 News Release:    BOS 99-224
Thursday, December 2, 1999
Contact: Ted Fitzgerald
PHONE: (617) 565-2074

OSHA PROPOSES OVER $66,000 IN PENALTIES AGAINST CLEAN HARBORS ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES, INC., FOR ALLEGED WILLFUL AND SERIOUS VIOLATIONS FOLLOWING EXPLOSION AT NORWALK, CONN., WORKSITE

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Labor Department has cited Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc., of Bristol, Connecticut, for alleged Willful and Serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act following a June 18, 1999, explosion at a Norwalk, Conn., worksite. OSHA has proposed penalties totaling $66,150.

According to Clifford S. Weston, OSHA area director in Bridgeport, the alleged violations were discovered during an inspection initiated June 21, 1999 at the former Guard All Chemical Company tank farm located at 350 Ely Avenue in Norwalk. Clean Harbors was decontaminating, dismantling and disposing of 39 above ground chemical tanks and had seven employees working onsite at the time at the time of the inspection. OSHA's inspection was prompted by the June 18 incident in which a 6,000-gallon storage tank containing flammable naphtha residue exploded while a Clean Harbors employee was using an acetylene torch to cut the tank's collar bolts.

"OSHA's inspection found that this employer had failed to implement several basic safeguards for employees who were working on this site and whose duties involved entering the tanks," said Weston. "First of all, Clean Harbors did not implement a site-specific safety and health plan prior to starting this project. The plan would have identified the various hazardous substances, such as methanol, toluene, methylene chloride, and various solvents and oils, on the jobsite and also evaluated and addressed the hazards posed to employees by those substances.

"In addition, the tanks' interior atmospheres had not been tested prior to worker entry to identify both chemical exposure levels and respiratory hazards posed by those substances," he said. "Also, the tank which exploded had not been thoroughly cleaned, ventilated and adequately tested for the presence of a flammable atmosphere before the worker began cutting operations with the torch."

The inspection also found that:

  • the presence and levels of lead-containing paint on tanks and pipes had not been identified and measured;
  • the use of appropriate respiratory protection had not been ensured at all times.
  • chemical containers had not been properly labeled.
  • an oxygen and an acetylene cylinder were stored too close to one another.

"Though it's fortunate that no serious injuries occurred here, that in no way relieves an employer of the responsibility of providing a safe and healthful worksite," said Weston. "It shouldn't take an incident of this type or the possibility of OSHA enforcement to prompt an employer to comply with primary health and safety requirements."

Specifically, the citations and proposed penalties encompass:

  • One alleged Willful violation, accounting for $49,500 in proposed penalties, for:
    • failure to implement a site-specific safety and health program to identify, evaluate and control safety and health hazards posed to employees decontaminating and removing storage tanks which contained hazardous substances; failure to obtain information on the chemical and physical properties of hazardous substances expected at the tank farm prior to employees coming on-site.
  • Eight alleged Serious violations, with $16,650 in penalties proposed, for:
    • a tank which formerly contained flammable naphtha was not thoroughly cleaned, ventilated or adequately tested for a flammable atmosphere before an employee began cutting its collar bolts with an acetylene torch
    • failure to conduct air monitoring to identify respiratory hazards prior to employees entering tanks which formerly contained hazardous substances; failure to provide appropriate level of respiratory protection to employees entering said tanks;
    • air monitoring to determine exposure levels to hazardous substances not conducted prior to workers entering tanks;
    • air monitoring to determine employee exposure to methylene chloride not done when an employee decontaminated a tank which contained that hazardous chemical;
    • a record of methylene chloride monitoring not made;
    • failure to conduct lead exposure assessment and identify the presence of lead-containing paint on tanks and pipes prior to starting the job;
    • respiratory protection not used by an employee cutting tanks and pipes on which lead containing paint was present.
    • drums containing chemicals were not properly labeled.
    • One alleged Other than Serious violation, with no cash penalty proposed, for:
    • an oxygen cylinder and an acetylene cylinder were stored less than 20 feet apart.

Weston urged southwestern Connecticut employers and employees with questions regarding workplace safety and health standards to contact the OSHA area office in Bridgeport and added that OSHA's toll-free, nationwide hotline --1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742)-- may be used to report workplace accidents or fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, especially if they occur outside of normal business hours.

A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard. An other-than-serious violation is a condition which would probably not cause death or serious physical harm but would have a direct and immediate relationship to the safety and health of employees.

OSHA is empowered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue standards and rules requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces and jobsites, and to assure through workplace inspections that those standards are followed.

The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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The information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (617) 565-2072. TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) Message Referral Phone: 800-347-8029.


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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


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