OSHA: Federal agency violated safety policies at Texas plant

Federal work-safety investigators say another federal agency violated safe handling policies at a helium plant in the Texas Panhandle

AMARILLO, Texas -- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated safe handling policies at a helium plant in the Texas Panhandle, federal work-safety investigators reported Thursday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a statement that it is the first time it has invoked its egregious violation policy in citing unsafe conditions at a federal facility.

OSHA said it issued 21 notices of unsafe working conditions to the bureau related to the handling of chemical materials at the Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit in Amarillo.

The violations would carry a penalty of more than $1 million in the private sector, but monetary penalties are not assessed to federal agencies for failing to comply with OSHA standards, the agency said.

The Amarillo plant refines and sells helium products to private entities. OSHA said it found five egregious willful violations for failure to perform inspections and tests on process equipment, as well as six willful safety violations that included failing to train workers to understand the purpose and function of the energy control program.

OSHA also cited serious violations for process safety management failures and other-than-serious safety violations involving notification and records violations.

Bureau spokesman Richard Packer said the agency has worked to address OSHA's concerns.