The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently announced the inclusion of upstream Oil and Gas hazards to the “High-Emphasis Hazards” in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (“SVEP”).
Based on the industry’s worker fatality rate over the last twenty years (five‑to‑eight times the national average for all U.S. industries), upstream oil and gas drilling and well servicing employers are now targeted by OSHA’s SVEP. This means, that if during any inspection, OSHA finds two or more willful or repeated violations or failure-to-abate notices (or any combination thereof), based on high gravity serious violations related to upstream oil and gas activities, that inspection will now be considered a severe violator enforcement case.
Cases meeting the severe violator enforcement criteria are those in which the employer is found to be indifferent to its obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health ("OSH") Act, thereby endangering employees. The SVEP program is intended to increase attention on the correction of hazards found in these workplaces and, where appropriate, in other worksites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present. This program applies to all employers regardless of size.
The SVEP is intended to focus enforcement efforts on significant hazards and violations by concentrating inspection resources on employers who have demonstrated indifference to their obligations under the OSH Act by committing willful, repeated, or failure‑to‑abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: (1) a fatality or catastrophe situation; (2) in industry operations or processes that expose employees to the most severe occupational hazards and those identified as "High-Emphasis Hazards;" (3) exposing employees to hazards related to the potential release of a highly hazardous chemical; or (4) all egregious enforcement actions.
“High-Emphasis-Hazards” include, but are not limited to, fall hazards, amputation hazards, combustible dust hazards, crystalline silica hazards, and excavation and trenching hazards, as well as hazards due to the potential release of a highly hazardous chemical (i.e., Process Safety Management).
For any SVEP case, a follow‑up inspection must be conducted after the citations become final orders even if abatement verification of the cited violations has been received. The purpose of the follow‑up inspection is to assess not only whether the cited violation(s) were abated, but also whether the employer is committing similar violations. The Silica National Emphasis Program (CPL 03-00-007) requires a mandatory follow‑up inspection when citations are issued for overexposure to crystalline silica to determine whether the employer is eliminating silica exposures or reducing exposures below the PEL. If a follow-up inspection finds the same or similar violations as previously cited, the follow-up inspection will most likely qualify as a severe violator enforcement case.
A severe violator enforcement case may trigger inspection of similar related workplaces an employer may have to determine whether those sites have hazardous conditions or violations similar to those in the severe violator enforcement case. A severe violator remains in the SVEP for a minimum of three years; only exiting if the employer maintains a clean record and OSHA is convinced the employer should leave the program.
This article was authored by Christopher G. Peterson, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author, click here.