Unsafe ozone levels in workplace resulted in fine

Recently a water utility in New Mexico was levied with a fine of $144,000 from OSHA for worker safety issues.  The primary worker safety issue was “unsafe ozone levels”.

This is the first fine of this magnitude this author is aware of.  It is imperative that if you are using ozone in an industrial process you have quality ozone detection devices, and that your employees are aware of the use of these devices and what the levels mean.

For more info see article below:

$144,000 Fine For Water Authority Allegedly Exposing Workers To Ozone


State regulators are hitting New Mexico’s largest water provider with $144,000 in fines, alleging that the utility put employees in harm’s way, according to NM Political Report.

After a six-month probe, the New Mexico Occupational Health & Safety Bureau wrote up the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility for 44 violations, including worker safety problems.

“More than a third of the dollar figure for the fines comes from exposing employees to hazardous levels of ozone, a toxic gas that at high levels can cause serious respiratory problems and trigger asthma attacks,” according to NM Political Report.

“The dispute stems from an incident where an employee discovered a ‘minor leak’ in a pipe in the area of the plant that works with ozone. Water Authority employees appealed to OSHA after being ignored through the internal grievance process, according to an employee with knowledge of the situation who didn’t want to be named in fear of retaliation,” the report said.

The bureau classified the violation as “willful” and “serious,” which means the following, according to the Political Report:

By federal definition, the willful part of the violation means the Water Authority “knowingly failed to comply” with the law or “acted in plain indifference to employee safety.” The serious part of the violation means management put the workplace in a situation that “could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.”

The bureau argued that the water authority “was aware that there were no [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-certified] respirators for ozone [and instead allowed its employees to use air-purifying respirators],” according to the Political Report.

The water authority is contesting the charge, per the story:

Water Authority spokesman Davis Morris contended that the ozone exposure levels were actually too low to do any harm. “OSHA said, ‘No, this respirator isn’t rated for working with ozone,’” Morris told New Mexico Political Report. “What we’re saying is you don’t need a respirator at all.”

He later added, “If in the judgement of the [regulators it’s determined that] the use of a cartridge respirator was a mistake in this particular circumstance, it is still not a willful violation as inadvertent, accidental or ordinarily negligent violations are distinguishable from willful [ones].”

Read Full Article HERE


While the main point of the fine and contention from management appears to revolve around a respirator, this should never become an issue.  OSHA provides safety limits for ozone use of 0.08. 0.1, and 0.3 ppm depending upon worker environment.

OSHA also requires that ozone detection devices are in place, and workers are trained in the operation.  In the event the workplace ozone levels are never allowed to rise above these levels, and workers are aware of this, there is no need for a respirator.

The respirators that OSHA recommends for use near ozone are basic carbon filters.  As ozone reacts with this carbon filter CO and CO2 are created.  These are also toxic gasses at high levels.  Also, as the carbon breaks down into CO and CO2 as it should, the filter becomes less effective at removing ozone safely.  At what point does the filter stop working?  And does the worker know this?  For these reasons, we do not suggest the use of respirators, unless absolutely necessary.  We suggest the use of quality ozone detectors, and for proper ozone shut-down controls.

For help choosing the right ozone monitor, or for ozone safety training, call our office.  We would be glad to help keep your workplace safe.

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