Arizona Veterans’ Healthcare Facility Exposed Workers to Deadly Hazards, OSHA Finds

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ healthcare facility in Prescott, Arizona, has been found to have endangered its maintenance workers by allowing them to work on steam lines without proper safety procedures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identified one willful violation and two repeated violations during its inspection in October 2022. Three serious notices were also issued for exposing employees to burns and other serious injuries.

The violations included the lack of energy-isolating procedures and the failure to train workers on safety procedures. OSHA inspectors found that employees followed an ad-hoc process that did not meet OSHA requirements, putting them at risk of serious injury or death. The findings come less than two years after a similar incident occurred at a Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in West Haven, Connecticut, where two workers died after suffering fatal burns while working on a steam line.

OSHA Area Director T. Zachary Barnett in Phoenix expressed disappointment at the findings and stated that despite the preventable deaths of two workers in Connecticut, the same hazards were allowed to endanger workers in Prescott. Federal law requires all employers, public or private, to provide a safe workplace, and the management of all Veterans Affairs facilities should review their employee safety and health programs to ensure compliance with industry and OSHA standards.

The Veterans Affairs’ Northern Arizona Healthcare System serves over 33,000 veterans at 12 locations in the region. The department provides benefits, healthcare, and cemetery services to military veterans, families, and survivors. The VA employs nearly 400,000 people at its medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices.

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 that they have abated hazards found but are not assessed monetary penalties. Private sector employers could face penalties of up to $315,875 for similar violations.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has 15 business days 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.

It is essential for all employers to prioritize safety in the workplace and ensure compliance with industry and OSHA standards. By doing so, not only will they ensure the safety of their employees, but they will also avoid costly penalties and fines. To learn more about OSHA regulations and safety in the workplace, visit the OSHA website.

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