January 16, 2011
After an investigation into an explosion at a Pennsylvania well site that killed two workers, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued fines totaling $229,390 to two companies involved in the incident.
Huntley & Huntley Inc., of Monroeville, PA, contracted with Northeast Energy Management Inc., of Indiana, PA, to fix a leaking barrel tank at the Murry Heirs #6 well site in Cheswick, PA. As two Northeast Energy Management workers welded the tank on July 23 of 2010, the heat from the welding ignited oil vapors and caused the tank to explode, killing both workers.
The Washington Post reports that the explosion sent the tank flying over 100 foot tall trees, landing more than 200 feet away, and caused a nearby gas well to catch fire and burn for hours before a special crew could be brought from Texas to fight the fire. The newspaper identifies the two welders as 56-year-old Andy Yosurak Jr., of Creekside, and 46-year-old Kevin Henry, of New Florence.
OSHA investigators found that Northeast Energy Management Inc. failed to ensure the safety of its workers by verifying the tank the workers were welding had been thoroughly cleaned and free of flammable materials, which might produce a flammable or toxic vapor when subjected to heat, and to check if flammable/combustible or other hazardous materials were present. The agency issued the company two willful violations for these failures.
OSHA issues a “willful violation” when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
Northeast Energy Management Inc. also received serious violations for failing to outfit its welders with flame retardant clothing, failing to ensure that welders get approval from supervisors prior to welding and failing to train employees in safety procedures needed to protect themselves from hazardous chemicals.
OSHA issues a “serious citation” when there is substantial probability, that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Huntley & Huntley Inc., owner of the well site and developer of more than 350 gas wells in western Pennsylvania, also received a willful violation by OSHA after they determined that the company failed to ensure that Northeast Energy Management Inc. trained welders and supervisors properly in regards to welding equipment and safety.
"These companies did not ensure that proper welding procedures were followed, resulting in this tragic loss of life," director of OSHA’s Pittsburgh, PA office Robert Szymanski said in an OSHA release. "OSHA remains committed to holding employers legally responsible when they fail to adhere to federal law and compromise the safety of workers."
OSHA assessed penalties to Northeast Energy Management Inc. of $159,390 and Huntley & Huntley Inc. of $70,000. The companies have 15 days to comply or request a hearing.