After spending days fighting fires, clearing brush and performing arduous physical tasks, U.S. Forest Service employees should return to a safe home base after work. Yet repeated inspections of national forests throughout Oregon during the last 10 years have found the opposite, with the Forest Service cited by federal inspectors for widespread safety violations nine out of every 10 visits.
Most recently, OSHA has cited the Forest Service for rampant and repeated workplace safety violations at two different ranger districts in eastern Oregon's Malheur National Forest, a 1.7 million acre woodland in the Blue Mountains.
Why the Forest Service won't be fined
In its latest inspection, OSHA examined facilities in the Prairie City and Blue Mountain ranger districts during four visits in April 2015. The agency found numerous fall, electrical, compressed gas storage and other safety issues. Although federal agencies cannot assess fines against government organizations, the Forest Service's violations would have resulted in approximately $352,000 in penalties for a private sector employer.
Specific violations include the following:
- Circuit breakers missing blanks or breakers.
- Electrical junction boxes and outlets without covers.
- Failure to require employees to wear eye protection when working with caustic chemicals.
- Ladder flaws that could lead to fall hazards.
- Woodworking machines without devices to prevent restarting after power failures.
- Unacceptable guardrails that could cause dangerous falls.
- Unguarded terminals for welding leads.
- Failure to inspect fire extinguishers monthly.
- Seasonal housing with insufficient secondary fire exits.
- Inadequate employee hazard identification training.
Recurring, similar violations
OSHA inspectors have found violations in almost 90 percent of previous Forest Service inspections of Oregon national forests since September 2010, many of which were recurring or similar violations.
"Like the private sector, these dedicated federal workers deserve a safe and healthy workplace," said Ken Atha, OSHA regional administrator in Seattle. "The Forest Service must ensure its workplace and housing are free from safety hazards."
An agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service manages and protects 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico.