Driller Cited Over Flame-Resistant Clothing Despite Judge's Rejection of OSHA Policy

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a well drilling company for failing to provide employees with flame-resistant clothing, the agency announced July 25, despite a ruling by an administrative judge that its enforcement memo on the issue was invalid.

The citations were issued June 11 against Horizontal Well Drillers, five days after an administrative law judge struck down an enforcement memo requiring companies to provide the protective gear. Although it decided not to appeal the ruling, OSHA told BNA July 19 it disagreed with the decision and would not view it as having “any precedential effect in future cases” (42 OSHR 675, 7/26/12).

The citation for the alleged repeat violation, issued under personal protective equipment standard (29 C.F.R. 1910.132), carries a proposed penalty of $5,500.

“This company exposed its employees to avoidable workplace hazards that can cause serious injury and possible death,” Jack Rector, OSHA's Forth Worth area director, said. “Employers are responsible for protecting workers from injuries and illnesses, and it is very fortunate that no one was hurt at this drill site.”

In addition to the alleged repeat citation related to flame-resistant clothing, the agency issued two other repeat citations against the company, including for allegedly failing to provide an auxiliary escape line and failing to ensure proper guardrails are installed. Proposed penalties against Horizontal Well Drillers totaled $55,500.

'Thumbing Its Nose.'

Michael Taylor, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, told BNA July 26 that if OSHA disagreed with the decision striking down the enforcement memo, it could have appealed the ruling.

“OSHA's thumbing its nose at the [administrative law judge's] decision, yet it failed to make the appropriate challenge,” Taylor said. “We're right back where we started from, which leaves the industry confused on what is compliance.”

OSHA issued a memo in 2010 requiring workers performing oil and gas well drilling, servicing, and production-related operations to wear flame-resistant and fire-retardant-treated clothing to protect against flash fires. Representatives from the energy production industry had repeatedly expressed concerns about the memo to the agency's regional offices and state plan administrators.

Kenny Jordan, executive director of the Association of Energy Service Companies, told BNA July 26 he was “disappointed” in OSHA's decision to issue the citation and to continue enforcing the policy.

“We've always said it's about proper rulemaking process and procedure,” he said. “Even now, they're ignoring that.”

Horizontal Well Drillers did not respond to a BNA request for comment.

By Greg Hellman