Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Enough Air Sampling?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Enough Air Sampling?

Article excerpt

Farmers Union Central Exchange Inc., doing business as Cenex Refinery, operates a petroleum refinery in Laurel, Mont. After an inspection by OSHA, Cenex was found in alleged violation of several standards.

The company contested the citations, but by the time the hearing date rolled around, the parties had settled all but two issues. They submitted those issues on a stipulated record and briefs. The first issue was the alleged serious violation of 29 CFR 1910.134(b)(8) for failure to conduct appropriate surveillance of work area conditions as part of Cenex's respiratory protection program. The company conceded the violation, but argued that it should not be classified as serious, but rather as other-than-serious.

At a hearing before OSHRC Administrative Law Judge James H. Barkley, the company argued that it had had no knowledged of its legal obligations under the cited standard because the standard was so vague and ambiguous.

The record, however, showed that there was a potential for employee exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas in the vicinity of the "Class A" compressor unit in the event of a leak, improper operation of the system, or a system failure; that overexposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can result in death or serious bodily harm; and that "hot work" air samplings were done approximately 15 to 48 times a year. While none of the employer's testing revealed hydrogen sulfide levels higher than 50 percent of permissible exposure levels, two employees were overexposed to hydrogen sulfide gas in 1988.

Judge Barkley indicated that just as the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas can lead to death or serious bodily harm, the failure to inform oneself of the possible presence of hydrogen sulfide through appropriate surveillance, such as continuous monitoring, can lead to death or serious bodily harm.

As to the argument made by Centex of the standard's vagueness and ambiguity, Barkley said that it was immaterial whether an employer knows that its practice violates an OSHA standard. …

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