ALJ Splits Decision on Grady County Well Site Safety Citations

An Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission administrative law judge issued a final order on Friday partially affirming a safety citation against an Oklahoma energy company while vacating another, according to a Wednesday news report by Business Insurance.

The decision against Elk City-based Bronco Oilfield Services Inc. stems from a January 2016 regional inspection of an oil well in Grady County, Oklahoma involving multiple employers at the site.

It is alleged that Bronco was in violation of the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act due to its failure to install a pressure relief valve for each pump used. The inspection officer concluded this exposure could result in severe bodily harm including death due to overpressure or system failure.

The inspection officer also alleged Bronco violated OSHA’s walking-working surfaces standard; however, the administrative law judge vacated the latter citation based on Bronco’s assertion that the company took necessary precautions to abate the pressurized hazardous exposure through use of a buffer zone and related gauges and valves designed to alleviate pressure.

In overturning the inspection officer’s recommendation for the walking-working surfaces standard, the administrative law judge agreed with Bronco that the well site was not its permanent place of employment as required by the Act.

The Commission previously issued two serious violations with a proposed penalty of $6,000. The judge assessed a lower penalty of $2,000 for the partially affirmed violation.

“Although the high pressure in this pump and pipe system exposed (Bronco’s) employees to a hazard capable of causing significant injury and death, the likelihood of that accident actually coming to fruition was low,” reported the judge. “The buffer zone policy kept (Bronco’s) employees out of the zone of danger, with the exception of the pump operators, and the whip checks located at the pumps provided at least some limited measure of protection for the operator’s cabin occupants.”

The administrative law judge’s decision became final on Friday.


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