EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – The U.S. Occupational and Health Administration has been on-site in East Palestine investigating worker complaints about the cleanup there. Citations have been issued and agreements have been made to do better.
Enforcement inspections of the cleanup work from the derailment began in March. The agency looked at complaints leveled by workers on the track, those cleaning up the waterways and some workers who went into homes and tested air quality.
Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division-International Brotherhood of Teamsters along with private firms that were brought in for cleanup as well as workers from the Centers for Disease Control were part of the investigation into worker complaints.
Complaints ranged from chemical exposure at the derailment site where new train tracks were installed to personal and area air sampling for workers involved in the site and water cleanup.
In connection with the investigations, Norfolk Southern has entered into an agreement with OSHA the Teamsters union to do the following:
- Implement a medical surveillance program for all affected employees who worked at the derailment site.
- Provide union employees with 40 hours of Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training for future derailments.
- Create a training program on lessons learned from the Ohio derailment.
- Pay penalties assessed by OSHA for four safety and health violations.
In addition, three out-of-state companies, CTEH, Specialized Professional Services of Washington, Pennsylvania and Hepaco Inc. of Charlotte, North Carolina were investigated for workers exposed to chemicals they cleaned up in nearby creeks where spills killed fish.
Specialized Professional Services was cited for inadequate control of the site and decontamination areas, which they immediately corrected, according to OSHA. CTEH nor Hepaco were cited.
OSHA also looked into complaints from CDC workers who said they became ill after visiting area homes on March 6, 2023, but no citations were issued.
In all, OSHA issued Norfolk Southern four citations on Aug. 2 and proposed $49, 111 in penalties. The violations primarily were related to work done on Feb. 4 as crews constructed new rail tracks. Norfolk cleaned up the area immediately, OSHA said, but they were cited for the following:
- Not developing an emergency response plan that included clear lines of authority, communication and training, site security, adequate site control and decontamination areas.
- Failing to require workers to wear chemical-resistant footwear when walking on contaminated soil.
- Allowing employees without respiratory protection to pour cement on potentially contaminated soil.
- Not training workers about hazardous chemicals.
The Federal Railroad Administration released its 143-page report on the Atlanta-based railroad’s safety culture Wednesday. The agency has been working on the report for months since thousands of people had to evacuate their homes after the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment.
Poor communication and mistrust between employees and managers are hindering Norfolk Southern’s efforts to improve safety, the report also said. The agency questioned whether the company’s training for employees and managers is adequate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.