Two Workers are Dead after a Lack of Hazardous Energy Control Safeguards

Two Workers are Dead after a Lack of Hazardous Energy Control Safeguards

An unexpected steam release was the cause of death for two employees at the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Two workers at the Bridgeport veterans’ health care facility in Bridgeport, CT suffered from fatal injuries caused by hot steam after a metal fixture on a mainstream line blew off. The workers just completed repairs to the steam pipe within the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System West Haven campus in November 2020.

According to a press release, an OSHA inspection determined that VACT failed to protect employees from struck-by and burn hazards. The agency found numerous issues in the facility’s lockout/tagout program. One of the workers was an employee of VACT; the other was an employee of Mulvaney Mechanical Inc.

“These fatalities could have been prevented if the employer had complied with safety standards that are designed to prevent the uncontrolled release of steam,” said OSHA Area Director Steven Biasi in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “Tragically, these well-known protective measures were not in place and two workers needlessly lost their lives.”

The press release states-- OSHA found the VACT program failed to:

  • Properly shutdown to avoid additional or increased hazard(s) to employees.
  • Relieve or render safe all potentially hazardous residual energy such as condensate water. 
  • Maintain adequate procedures for isolating each steam main branch supplying campus buildings.
  • Conduct a periodic inspection of all lockout-tagout procedures to correct any deviations or inadequacies.
  • Provide adequate training to supervisory employees.
  • Retrain employees when there was a change in their job assignments, or a change in machines, equipment or processes that presented a new hazard.
  • Notify affected employees of the application and removal of lockout or tagout devices.
  • Inform Mulvaney Mechanical of VACT’s lockout/tagout procedures.
  • Ensure each authorized employee affix a personal lockout or tagout device to the group lockout device before working on the machine or equipment.

OSHA issued nine notices of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions: one willful, three repeat and five serious violations. VACT has 15 days from receipt to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or appeal the notices. The penalty amount would be $621,218 if VACT were a private sector employer.

The press release also states—Mulvaney Mechanical Inc. was cited for four serious violations* with $38,228 in proposed penalties for failing to:

  • Develop, document and use lockout/tagout procedures for the control of potentially hazardous energy.
  • Adequately train employees on the methods necessary to isolate and control energy.
  • Inform VACT of Mulvaney Mechanical’s lockout/tagout procedures.
  • Ensure that each authorized employee affixed a personal lockout or tagout device to the group lockout device.

Mulvaney Mechanical Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent OSH Review Commission.

About the Author

Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.

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