Spokane Fined in Waste-Treatment Plant Violations

November 8, 2004

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has cited the city of Spokane after a sewage tank rupture last May that killed one worker and injured several others. The city was cited for 14 violations of workplace health and safety rules that carry a combined penalty of $66,600.

L&I’s six-month investigation reportedly found multiple violations of a safety standard on chemical processes. The Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard includes detailed requirements for employers to identify chemical processes, carefully describe those processes, identify possible problems and hazards, and determine how to eliminate or minimize hazards to prevent catastrophic events.

“The city of Spokane has been cooperative and helpful during the investigation of this tragic event,” said L&I Director Paul Trause. “We look forward to working with the city in taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of employees. The city is committed to worker safety.”

L&I’s investigation identified numerous problems in the PSM standard where the employer had failed to:

* Certify annually that operating procedures are current and accurate.
Include information about the technology of the current process in the process-safety information.
* Fully cover hazards of the process in the process-hazard analysis for the digester gas system.
* Qualitatively evaluate a range of the possible safety and health effects on employees in the workplace from a failure of controls.
* Address human factors in the process-hazard analysis for the digester gas system, e.g., inconsistent color-coding on pipes or valves installed in such a way that the employees operating the valves could not see the position indicators.
* Develop and implement written operating procedures that provide clear instructions for safely conducting activities in the digester gas production process.
* Ensure that each employee was trained in an overview of the process and operating procedures.
* Provide refresher training at least every three years to assure employees understand and adhere to current operating procedures for the digester gas generation and collection system.
* Establish and implement written procedures to maintain the ongoing integrity of process equipment.
Inform and train employees of changes to the digester gas generation and collection system.
* Update the process-safety information after numerous changes to the system.
* Keep records identifying employees who had received the required training.
* Ensure that equipment or material involved in a work or work-related accident was not moved, dismantled or disturbed until the investigation was completed.

The city of Spokane has 15 working days to appeal.

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