OSHA Adds “Upstream Oil & Gas Hazards” to List of High-Emphasis Hazards in Severe Violator Enforcement Program

On February 11, 2015, OSHA Director of Enforcement Programs Thomas Galassi sent a memorandum to all OSHA Regional Directors and State Plan Designees titled “Inclusion of Upstream Oil and Gas Hazards to the High-Emphasis Hazards in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP).” The short memorandum states that its purpose is “to authorize the addition of upstream oil and gas hazards to the list of High-Emphasis Hazards in the SVEP.”

Galassi notes that the policy “is targeted to upstream oil and gas drilling and well servicing employers based on their industry’s significant worker fatality rate over time,” and adds that “over the last twenty years, upstream operations have experienced a fatality rate that has ranged from five to eight times greater than the national average for all U.S. industries [U.S. DOL BLS].” 

As a result, the Galassi memorandum states that OSHA “believes that a change in its SVEP policy related to upstream oil and gas drilling and well-servicing operations is warranted.”

Following the publication of the memorandum, “a non-fatality inspection of an employer with the NAICS code 211111, 213111 and 213112 (Oil and Gas Production Services, Drilling and Well Servicing/ “Upstream Oil and Gas Industry”) in which OSHA finds two or more willful or repeated violations or failure-to-abate notices (or any combination of these violations/notices), based on high gravity serious violations related to upstream oil and gas activities, will now be considered a severe violator enforcement case.”

Once an employer is designated a severe violator, OSHA may inspect other worksites of the employer. OSHA also expects the severe violator to establish a safety program that could involve outside consultants and frequent follow-up visits by OSHA inspectors. Criteria for Removal from the SVEP According are arduous, and are published in an August 16, 2012, OSHA memorandum titled “Removal Criteria for the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” They include passage of three years from the final disposition of the citation that produced the SVEP designation, final disposition including a final order from the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, a court of appeals decision, a settlement agreement with OSHA or a decision not to contest the citation. In addition, all affirmed violations must have been abated, all final penalties must have been paid, the employer must have abided by and completed all settlement provisions, and the employer must not have received any additional serious citations related to the hazards identified in the SVEP inspection at the initial establishment or at any related establishments.

Edward L. "Skipp" Kropp focuses his practice in the area of environmental law and is resident in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a former Chief of the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection Office of Air Quality and former Deputy Director of the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection.
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