Federal safety inspectors found that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) endangered maintenance workers at its healthcare facility in Prescott, Ariz., by allowing them to work on steam lines without ensuring they followed required safety procedures. Similar hazards previously killed two workers at a VA facility in Connecticut.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identified one willful violation and two repeated violations by the department’s Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System and issued three serious notices for exposing employees to burns and other serious injuries. OSHA identified the violations during an October 2022 inspection.
The findings come less than two years after a pair of workers died at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in West Haven, Conn., in November 2020 after suffering fatal burns while working on a steam line. In that case, OSHA cited similar violations to those found in Prescott.
“Despite the tragic and preventable deaths of two workers at a facility in Connecticut in 2020, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allowed the same hazards to endanger employees working on steam lines at its Prescott, Arizona, facility,” said OSHA Area Director T. Zachary Barnett in Phoenix.
During the inspection, OSHA inspectors determined the Prescott facility lacked energy-isolating procedures—also known as lockout/tagout—that are designed to prevent the release of hazardous energy when steam lines are being maintained or serviced. They found employees followed an ad-hoc process that did not meet OSHA requirements and the facility failed to train workers on safety procedures.
“Federal law requires all employers, public or private, to provide a safe workplace. Management at all Veterans Affairs facilities should review their employee safety and health programs to ensure they comply with industry and OSHA standards for isolating hazardous energy before another tragedy occurs,” Barnett added.
Under Executive Order 12196, federal agencies must comply with the same safety and health standards as private-sector employers covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Federal agencies are issued notices of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions and required to demonstrate they have abated hazards found but are not assessed monetary penalties. For similar violations, a private-sector employer could face penalties of up to $315,875.
The VA has 15 business days from receipt of the notices to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or appeal the notices by submitting a summary of the agency’s position on the unresolved issues to OSHA’s regional administrator in San Francisco.