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An administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission affirmed a serious citation and $11,408 fine against a drilling employer after an employee’s finger had to be amputated following a workplace accident.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued one citation under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to Coastal Drilling East LLC following an inspection of the company’s worksite in Dayton, Pennsylvania — a citation the company contested, according to review commission documents in Secretary of Labor v. Coastal Drilling East LLC.
The company admitted to many of the elements of the general duty clause violation claim, but argued that abatement of the cited condition was infeasible and the violation was the result of unpreventable employee misconduct that it characterized as “idiosyncratic,” according to review commission documents.
A supervisor operating rig controls left the controls to assist another employee immediately before the April 2017 accident but did not secure the drawworks brake before leaving the controls, according to the documents. The company did not formally discipline any employees as a result of this accident and provided no training related to the operation of the drawworks — hoisting machinery — prior to the accident.
The supervisor testified that he simply forgot to secure the brake and admitted in an interview with a compliance officer for OSHA that he made a mistake in not chaining the brake and knew he was supposed to do it. He also stated that he had been operating drawworks for over 30 years and should have chained the brake in place.
A feasible and acceptable method of abatement of the hazard is to follow the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended practice for occupational safety for oil and gas well drilling and servicing operations, which states the equipment operator should not leave the drawworks brake without it being tied down or secured with a catch lock unless the drawworks is equipped with an automatic driller, according to the secretary’s citation.
The API’s recommended practice is well-recognized as an industry standard that Coastal Drilling was already following, but the supervisor forgot to secure the brake as established by the API language, the administrative law judge determined. An expert testifying on behalf of the secretary opined that the employer needed to develop standard operating procedures for leaving the panel/controls without securing the brake, although the expert did not testify about the costs of establishing such procedures to ensure compliance with the API’s recommended practice, according to review commission documents.
“However, it is reasonable to infer the cost of developing SOPs that include training and observation would be minimal, capable of being done, and not at all threatening to the economic viability of Coastal,” the law judge wrote in rejecting the infeasibility argument.
Coastal Drilling’s total reliance on the supervisor’s prior experience and common sense translated to an absence of training, instruction and supervision, according to the law judge’s decision.
“This approach is flawed in that it fails to take into account human error, as happened here when (the supervisor) forgot to secure the brake, or the fact that every worksite is different,” the law judge wrote in determining that the evidence did not support the company’s claim of unpreventable employee misconduct.
In addition, the company did not formally discipline any employee and simply reminded the supervisor to chain down the drawworks brake during a post-investigation meeting to discuss the accident. Meanwhile, an expert testifying on behalf of the secretary opined that the company had polices, such as its drug and alcohol policies, that were not always enforced — effective enforcement of rules when violations are discovered being an essential element of such a defense, the ruling noted.
An attorney for the company could not be immediately reached for comment.
The law judge’s decision became a final order of the review commission on Monday.
A New York rock drilling company has agreed to pay $360,000 in penalties related to the 2012 death of a 30-year-old driller, the U.S. Department of Labor said in a Thursday statement.