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Two fatalities at well site; two companies cited

January 12, 2011
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Two Pennsylvania companies have been cited by OSHA for workplace safety violations following the deaths of two workers at a well site explosion in Cheswick.

Northeast Energy Management Inc. of Indiana, Pa., was cited for two willful violations involving failure to ensure workers were welding on a thoroughly cleaned tank that did not contain flammable materials which might produce a flammable or toxic vapor when subjected to heat, and determine whether flammable/combustible or other hazardous materials were present.

Huntley & Huntley Inc. of Monroeville, Pa., also received a citation for one willful violation for failing to ensure Northeast Energy suitably trained welders and supervisors in the safe operation of welding equipment and the safe use of the welding process. A willful violation exists when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

“Tragic loss of life”

"These companies did not ensure that proper welding procedures were followed, resulting in this tragic loss of life," said Robert Szymanski, director of OSHA's area office in Pittsburgh, Pa. "OSHA remains committed to holding employers legally responsible when they fail to adhere to federal law and compromise the safety of workers."

OSHA began its investigation in July 2010 after being notified that a tank containing flammable materials had exploded and two Northeast Energy welders were killed. Huntley & Huntley contracted Northeast Energy to repair a leaking barrel tank at the well site and was responsible for ensuring that Northeast Energy properly trained its workers on safe welding procedures.

Workers lacked flame retardant clothing

Northeast Energy also was cited for serious violations for failing to provide workers with flame retardant clothing protection during welding operations, ensure that supervision determined the welder secured approval prior to commence welding operations and train employees in the specific procedures needed to protect themselves from hazardous chemicals. OSHA issues a serious citation when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Huntley & Huntley also received a citation for one willful violation for failing to ensure Northeast Energy suitably trained welders and supervisors in the safe operation of welding equipment and the safe use of the welding process. A willful violation exists when an employer has demonstrated either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Northeast Energy, which is involved in drill site preparation and reclamation, was assessed a penalty of $159,390. Huntley & Huntley develops oil and gas wells and has more than 350 gas wells in western Pennsylvania. Huntley & Huntley company was assessed a penalty of $70,000.

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