US Department of Labor finds federal helium enrichment unit failed to follow safe chemical handling procedures in Amarillo, Texas

AMARILLO, TX – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found that the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management violated procedures for safe handling of chemical materials at its Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit in Amarillo, a federal chemical producing plant that refines and sells helium products to private entities.

OSHA issued the facility 21 notices of unsafe working conditions. This is OSHA’s first use of the egregious violation policy in citing unsafe working conditions at a federal facility. The violations of process safety management procedures would carry a private sector penalty of $1,023,987.

The Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General initiated the June 8, 2021, inspection after the OIG received serious safety and health allegations from workers at the facility.

“OSHA found the Bureau of Land Management’s Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit willfully and repeatedly failed to take required safety measures to ensure the facility’s compliance with federal safety and health procedures and protect employees from chemical production hazards,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker. “Federal employers, just like private sector employers, are responsible for knowing what hazards exist in their facilities and taking appropriate precautions to keep workers safe.”

Six willful safety violations include failing to train workers to understand the purpose and function of the energy control program, and five egregious willful violations are for failing to perform inspections and tests on process equipment. OSHA cited serious violations for process safety management failures, and other-than-serious safety violations involved notification and records violations. 

As required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal agencies must comply with the same safety standards as private sector employers. The federal agency equivalent to a private sector citation is the notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions. A notice is used to inform establishment officials of violations of OSHA standards, alternate standards, and 29 Code of Federal Regulations citable program elements. Monetary penalties are not assessed to federal agencies for failing to comply with OSHA standards.

The BLM’s Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit has 15 business days from receipt of its notices to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or appeal the notices by submitting a summary of the agency’s position on the unresolved issues to OSHA’s regional administrator.

Learn more about OSHA.

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