A negligent company owner gets prison and fines.
By Darrel Canada
During all the years spent in the oilfield and in training classes I have taught, I’ve always tried to make a difference in people’s mindsets. I want the hard working men and women going back home safe to their families every day. I feel that the employers want to do the right thing as well as the employees.
Somewhere along the way, though, people look for loopholes and talk themselves into bad situations, whether they be bosses or employees. The bosses want to save their company money, both on training and PPE Equipment, because those dollars come right off the top of their bottom line.
The employee wants to work and make good money for his family, so sometimes they are willing to compromise their safety, because they don’t see the hazard before their eyes! Some employees will grow back their beards and/or goatees because they don’t understand the true consequences to their families, or the danger of not getting a proper seal on a air mask in the event of an H2S exposure at work or on a location.
A lot of companies are only doing H2S awareness training instead of the full blown H2S certification training that is required each year. It saves them some money up front on the cost of training all of their employees who might have the potential to exposure. Many companies do not want to go to the expense that is required under federal law to protect their employees—possibly the general public, depending upon their work locations—and the companies might likewise object to the costs due to high turnovers ratios of trained employees leaving.
There are many safety companies out in the industry that are also willing to take the chance and just do awareness training because they want to make the client happy. Many safety companies will do about 30 minutes to an hour training on H2S, a duration that can only be called “awareness training” at best. The ANSI-Z390.1 Standard calls for specific things to be done and will require about 3 ½ to 4 hours for the material to be covered properly. Eventually a company and a family will find out the hard way that corners are being cut and then a fatality happens. By this time it is too late to go back and bring that person back to his or her family or employer.
The investigations begin and, based upon what OSHA finds with the employer, the appropriate citations and penalties are assessed. The families turn to the civil lawsuits to try to compensate for the loss of their bread winner, who is now dead and removed from the realm of contributing to the family’s livelihood.
In January 1996, I watched a frac tank become a death trap to three men who lost their lives, one of them being the owner of the company. They went out of business and three families lost their loved ones. The men didn’t have the proper training or personal protective equipment to do their jobs properly. The ripple effect went through the whole community and people started taking the proper precautions for a while, but soon after it was back to business as usual. Because such behaviors are so common, I now share a story about the first criminal charges I know of dealing with H2S and deaths. A man by the name of Joey Sutter, who was a truck driver for a company called Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services, LLC, died on Dec. 18, 2008, after being exposed to a high concentration of H2S. Mr. Sutter did not have the H2S certification training or the proper PPE that was required to be provided by his employer at the time of his exposure. OSHA has six months to finish an investigation once they are notified of a fatality. Then they issue a citation or a penalty to the employer.
The same company had another truck driver by the name of Charles Sittig that died less than four months later, on April 14, 2009, after also being exposed to a high concentration of H2S gas. Again this employee didn’t have proper training or personal protective equipment to let him do his job safely. This employer was displaying the four mental culpable states for criminal charges—that is, he was intentionally, knowingly, willingly, and recklessly endangering his employees.
The President of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services, LLC, Mr. Matthew Lawrence Bowman, 41, of Houston, Texas, pleaded guilty on May 9, 2013, to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and making a false statement. Mr. Bowman was sentenced to serve 12 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone. Mr. Bowman was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine for the criminal charge. He admitted to not properly protecting PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide. He also admitted to directing employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal the fact that the wastewater his truck drivers were hauling had high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide. A disposal facility had put a moratorium on all wastewater shipments that were coming from Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental, LLC, after it had received loads of wastewater containing hydrogen sulfide.
Mr. Bowman’s actions showed that he was more interested in making a profit than he was for the safety and health of his employees. His actions were criminal and now he is being held accountable for those actions. The public information release for this case can be reviewed at www.justice.gov and is meant to send a strong message to employers who are willingly putting employees in harm’s way.
The OSH Act calls for the employer to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. This is found under 29 USC 654 Section 5 (a) 1 and is known as the General Duty Clause.
Section 5 (a) 2 states that each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.
Section 5 (b) goes on to state that each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this act that are applicable to his own actions and conduct.
So there it stands—the first criminal charges that I know of for an employer regarding H2S exposure and death.
Each employer needs to make a written hazard assessment of what their employees are being exposed to and to ensure proper training, work procedures, and personal protective equipment (as mandated by federal laws) in their work environments.
What employers and employees do not know about hydrogen sulfide gas—and the associated products of it—will continue to bring death from a silent deadly killer. It’s not only naturally occurring in the oilfield. It’s also present in 71 different industrierffs.
The appropriate places to choose when it comes to wearing a personal monitor, and the proper work procedures and training to observe, are as follows:
- API-RP 49—Breathing Zone: 6 to 9 inches forward of the shoulders
- API-RP-54 and API-RP 55—Bumping and calibration of monitoring equipment
- ANSI-2390.1—Accepted Practices for Hydrogen Sulfide Training and Work Procedures
- 1910.1000—OSHA tables of hazards chemicals
- 1910.1200—Hazcom and GHS standard
- 1910.132-138—PPE Standard
- 1910.134—Respiratory Protection standard
- 1910.14—Permit required confined space standard
- 1910.38—Emergency action plan standard
- 1910.151—CPR/First Aid and eyewash standard
- 1910.120—Hazwoper Standard
- 1910.119—Process Safety Management Standard
- Texas Statewide Rule 36 from the Railroad Commission
Darrel Canada is president and Master Trainer at Canada and Associates Safety Training LLC, based in Abilene, Texas, with offices also in Snyder, Midland, and Carrizo Springs, Texas. Find them at canada-associates.com.