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OSHA Sends Message with $1.4 Million Filing

OSHA today issued 71 citations against CES Environmental Services Inc., a familiar foe in recent years to safety and environmental federal authorities. This time, the proposed penalties total $1.4 million.

CES Environmental Services Inc. is in a federal agency's enforcement crosshairs again. This time, OSHA has issued penalties totaling $1,477,500 to CES in connection with 17 allegedly willful violations and 54 allegedly serious violations -- all of them related to a July 2009 explosion at the company's Griggs Road facility in Houston.

OSHA posted the announcement on its site late Monday. It says the explosion killed an employee who was cleaning a tank "when an altered piece of equipment ignited flammable vapors inside the tank. The fatality was the third death in less than a year at this employer's facilities; two hydrogen sulfide exposure-related deaths at a related facility, Port Arthur Chemical & Environmental Services LLC (PACES), occurred in December 2008 and April 2009."

Those two fatalities in Port Arthur, Texas, on Dec.18, 2008 and the April 14, 2009, cases still being contested before OSHRC, brought proposed penalties of $16,600 and $207,800, respectively against PACES. CES and PACES together employ 155 workers, according to OSHA.

Contacted today for comment about the latest case, CeCe Cohen of the Houston law firm Camara & Sibley LLP provided this statement: "CES does not believe that these fines are justified and intends to contest them vigorously. CES works diligently to ensure the safety of its many employees in Houston and Port Arthur. It is a shame that overzealous regulators are continuing to harass a business that has done its best to provide an essential industrial service here in Houston."

"Proper precaution prevents deaths," said U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in the OSHA announcement. "Employers should take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment for their workers. That is the law."

Camara & Sibley announced last October that it had been retained to represent CES in "ongoing investigations by the City of Houston and its various departments and divisions, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Attorney General, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration." The firm describes itself online this way: "We prosecute commercial cases for plaintiffs, defend corporate clients in save-the-company litigation, and handle complex corporate and financial transactions. We act for our clients in their most challenging and important legal matters. We specialize in hard cases."

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