The US Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated procedures for safe handling of chemical materials at its Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit in Amarillo, Texas, last year.

Source: BLM

Cliffside

OSHA issued the Cliffside plant, which refines and sells helium products to private entities, 21 notices of unsafe working conditions and is the OSHA’s first use of the egregious violation policy in citing unsafe working conditions at a federal facility. 

The violations of process safety management procedures would carry a private sector penalty of $1,023,987, according to the OHSA. However, monetary penalties are not assessed to federal agencies for failing to comply with OSHA standards and the BLM is part of the US Department of Interior.

The inspection was carried out in June after the OIG received serious safety and health allegations from workers at the facility.

Assistant Secretary of Labour for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker said, “OSHA found the Bureau of Land Management’s Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit willfully and repeatedly failed to take required safety measures to ensure the facility’s compliance with federal safety and health procedures and protect employees from chemical production hazards. Federal employers, just like private sector employers, are responsible for knowing what hazards exist in their facilities and taking appropriate precautions to keep workers safe.”

The OHSA said six willful safety violations include failing to train workers to understand the purpose and function of the energy control programme, and five egregious willful violations for failing to perform inspections and tests on process equipment. OSHA cited serious violations for process safety management failures, and other-than-serious safety violations involved notification and records violations.

As required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal agencies must comply with the same safety standards as private sector employers. The federal agency equivalent to a private sector citation is the notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions.

The BLM’s Cliffside plant has 15 business days from receipt of its notices to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or appeal.