Last month, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) - the federal agency charged with ensuring safe and healthy workplaces for U.S. workers - fined Houston-based CES Environmental Services, Inc. almost $1.5 million in penalties. The penalties stemmed from a July explosion that killed an employee who was cleaning a tanker truck. CES provides hazardous and nonhazardous waste transportation, recycling and disposal services.
Bruce Howard burned to death in the explosion, which was apparently caused by modified equipment that lit flammable gases in the tank. Two other employees were killed working for CES in the year before Howard's death. Those deaths involved asphyxiation and poisoning from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a hazardous gas with potentially fatal properties even in very low concentrations. CES challenges the OSHA fines imposed for all three deaths.
OSHA's regulations are designed to require that employers provide worksites free from hazardous conditions that could cause serious physical harm or death. The violations in connection with conditions surrounding Howard's death are classified as serious and willful. By definition, a willful citation is issued for an employer's "intentional disregard of the standards or plain indifference to employee safety and health." A serious citation means that "death or serious physical harm could result if an accident were to occur as the result of a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known."
Ramifications of OSHA Violations in Texas
OSHA violations can also be powerful tools in Texas for injured workers in workers' compensation claims, personal injury lawsuits, and for surviving family members in wrongful death actions:
- Texas courts have considered OSHA regulations to represent the proper standards of conduct and care for employers responsible for safe workplaces.
- Appeals Panels of the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission have considered OSHA findings to be evidence of worker sickness and injury; of employee exposure to dangerous or unhealthy substances; and of poor air quality.
Legal Counsel for Industrial Workers
Thousands of people in Texas are employed in dangerous industrial settings like refineries, petrochemical plants, natural gas and propane facilities, and hazardous-material transportation. Industrial employees should be aware of their employers' safety records with state and federal agencies.
If a worker is injured or killed on the job, an experienced personal injury attorney should be consulted as soon as possible to preserve potential legal claims to workers' compensation and possibly to damages through a personal injury lawsuit. The lawyer is likely to investigate related OSHA violations as part of the client's legal arsenal.