OSHA Closes 2011 with Million-Dollar Fine

Houston-based Piping Technology and Products Inc. faces 13 willful and 17 serious violations and has been added to OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections.

OSHA announced $1,013,000 in proposed fines against Houston-based Piping Technology and Products Inc. on Dec. 28, saying the company faces 13 willful and 17 serious violations and has been added to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections.

The news release indicated an employee's complaint triggered the inspection. "Repeatedly ignoring the law while risking workers' lives and providing misleading information to federal investigators will not be tolerated," Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in the release. "Employers who endanger the lives and limbs of their employees must be held accountable."

It said a worker at the company contacted OSHA earlier this year, "alleging a lack of brakes on overhead cranes and unguarded presses at the company's facility on Holmes Road. This complaint triggered an investigation by OSHA's Houston South Area Office. In addition to substantiating the complaint items, the inspection found that employees were permitted to cut metal I-beams and pipes without the proper machine guarding, which exposed them to possible severe injuries. Additionally, OSHA inspectors found that during machine maintenance, workers were exposed to the unexpected release of stored energy because of improper safeguards."

"Piping Technology deliberately exposed its workers who operate band saws and other dangerous machinery to amputation hazards while misleading OSHA investigators about the use of these machines," said Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels.

The company posted this statement, dated Dec. 28, on its website: "Piping Technology has been the subject of an OSHA investigation that began earlier this year. Piping Technology Vice President, R. K. Agrawal offers the following statement in response to the citations and proposed fines by OSHA: 'Piping Technology & Products maintains a safe workplace for its employees. We started out in a garage in Southeast Houston and we've grown the company to nearly 600 employees over the last 30+ years. All the while, we've maintained employee safety as our #1 priority. And we think the data supports it. Regarding the citations and proposed fines just issued by OSHA, we disagree with the conclusions that OSHA has reached. We look forward to working with OSHA to resolve the situation. Throughout OSHA's recent inspection of our facility, the men and women of Piping Technology, including members of our safety team, our department supervisors, our management and our other employees have fully cooperated with OSHA inspectors."

The alleged willful violations involve machine guarding and lockout/tagout. The serious violations also involve guarding, as well as fall protection training and ensuring employees wore hard hats when exposed to overhead hazards. OSHA's release said Piping Technology "had knowledge of OSHA requirements due to citations issued in 1986, 1994, 2004 and 2005 that specifically addressed the need to guard the band saws used in production processes. In 2004 and 2005, OSHA cited the company with penalties totaling $82,500 and $33,000, respectively, for a variety of workplace hazards that included lockout/tagout violations."

The agency placed Piping Technology in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. To read the citations, visit http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Piping-tech-prod-312928344-1228-11.pdf.

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