OMAHA, NE. – Moments before a blast ripped through a railcar on April 14, 2015, a check of the air quality inside indicated a serious risk of an explosion. Despite the warning, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent two employees, aged 41 and 45, into the railcar to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, nor providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.
The explosion that resulted blew the railcar’s escape ladder off and killed the two men, trapping one inside and hurling the other off the top of the railcar. A third employee was injured.
After its investigation at the company’s Hickory Street, Pierce Street and South 30th Street sites following the explosion, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services for seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations on Oct. 13, 2015.
The company faces penalties of $963,000. OSHA also placed the company in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
The egregious willful violations involve multiple instances of failing to monitor air quality properly in confined spaces as required and for not fit-testing employees required to use respirators in railcars.
Most railcars are confined spaces, which are large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as cleaning and maintenance, but are not designed for continuous occupancy.
Safety regulations require that employers evaluate confined spaces for air quality and other hazards prior to allowing workers to enter and then monitor conditions while employees are inside.