The deaths last year of two workers in a hot steam accident at the West Haven Veterans Affairs Medical Center could have been avoided if the VA healthcare system had complied with safety standards, OSHA said.

A VA of Connecticut Healthcare System maintenance worker and a private contractor were killed and three others injured in the Nov. 13 accident inside a maintenance building.

The workers had just completed repairs on a steam pipe when a fixture broke loose and quickly flooded their work area with steam.

Killed were VA of Connecticut maintenance worker Euel Sims, 60, of Milford, and contractor Joseph O’Donnell, 36, of Danbury, who worked for Mulvaney Mechanical Inc., of Danbury.

An OSHA inspection found several workplace safety violations, determined that the VA of Connecticut system failed to protect employees from hazards, and found many deficiencies in the facility’s lockout/tagout program.

Penalties

OSHA also accused Mulvaney Mechanical of violations and proposed $38,228 in penalties against the Danbury company.

OSHA cannot levy penalties on the VA because it is a federal agency.

However, if OSHA could assess penalties for the alleged West Haven violations, they would amount to $621,218, the agency said.

“These fatalities could have been prevented if the employer had complied with safety standards that are designed to prevent the uncontrolled release of steam,” OSHA area director Steven Biasi said in a statement.

“Tragically, these well-known protective measures were not in place and two workers needlessly lost their lives.”

Allegations

The OHSA inspection said VA of Connecticut failed to:

  • Properly shutdown to avoid additional or increased hazards to employees
  • Relieve or render safe all potentially hazardous residual energy such as condensate water
  • Maintain adequate procedures for isolating each steam main branch supplying campus buildings
  • Periodically inspect all lockout-tagout procedures to correct any deviations or inadequacies
  • Adequately train supervisory employees
  • Retrain employees when there was a change in job assignments, machines, equipment, or processes that presented a new hazard
  • Notify affected employees of the application and removal of lockout or tagout devices
  • Inform Mulvaney Mechanical of the VA’s lockout/tagout procedures
  • Ensure each authorized employee affixes a personal lockout or tagout device to the group lockout device before working on the machine or equipment

OSHA classified one violation as willful, three as repeat, and five as serious violations.

VA of Connecticut has 15 days to comply with a notice from OSHA, request a formal conference, or appeal the findings.

Additional Violations

The four violations OSHA filed against Mulvaney Mechanical include failing to:

  • Develop, document, and use lockout/tagout procedures to control potentially hazardous energy
  • Adequately train workers on the necessary steps to isolate and control energy
  • Inform the VA of Connecticut of Mulvaney’s lockout-tagout procedures
  • Ensure that each authorized employee affixed a personal lockout or tagout device to the group lockout device

Mulvaney also has 15 business days from when it received the citation to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the finding before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1900).