Railcar Cleaning Service Placed on Severe Violator Enforcement Program and Faces Penalties of $963,000 After Blast Kills Two Employees

 
Thursday, October 15, 2015
 
On April 14, 2015,  a blast ripped through a railcar.  A check of the air quality inside indicated a serious risk of an explosion. Despite the warning, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent two employees, aged 41 and 45, into the railcar to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, and without providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.

The explosion that resulted blew the railcar's escape ladder off and killed the two men, trapping one inside and hurling the other off the top of the railcar. A third employee was injured.

After its investigation at the company's Hickory Street, Pierce Street and South 30th Street sites following the explosion, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services for seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations on Oct. 13, 2015. The company faces penalties of $963,000. OSHA also placed the company in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program. 

The egregious willful violations involve multiple instances of failing to monitor air quality properly in confined spaces as required and for not fit-testing employees required to use respirators in railcars. Most railcars are confined spaces, which are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as cleaning and maintenance, but are not designed for continuous occupancy. Safety regulations require that employers evaluate confined spaces for air quality and other hazards prior to allowing workers to enter and then monitor conditions while employees are inside.

In the most recent citations, Nebraska Rail Car Services also failed to:
  • Train workers on hazard materials in use.
  • Establish a hazardous waste program to include training, proper handling and removal.
  • Label containers for chemical hazards.
  • Guard floor openings to prevent fall hazards.
  • Establish a hearing conservation program.
  • Provide first aid and fire extinguisher training.
  • Remove damaged powered industrial vehicles.
  • Numerous electrical safety violations.
  • Train workers on safely operating powered industrial vehicles, a violation the company was cited for in 2013.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating allegations that the company improperly disposed of hazardous waste.

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services and Omaha Transloading LLC, which share a majority owner, Steven Braithwaite, have had several previous OSHA inspections. In 2013, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning was cited for hearing conservation, respiratory protection, permit required confined space, and powered industrial truck hazards. In 2012, Omaha Transloading was issued serious citations for respiratory protection deficiencies and electrical hazards. OSHA cited another company owned by Braithwaite, Demolition Contractors Inc., in 2005 for similar hazards including a willful violation for inadequate respiratory protection.

Nebraska Railcar has had five whistleblower complaints filed with OSHA since 2013. Two are under investigation.

The company specializes in cleaning railcars that contained food grade products, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, used oil, asphalt, gasoline, and ethanol. At the time of the 2015 inspection, it employed 35 workers at three locations in Omaha. Its workers' compensation provider is Travelers Indemnity Company of Overland Park, Kansas.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
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