Pumper Minimizes Safety Concerns Amidst OSHA Inspection

Cooperation and swift action to correct violations was a key to minimizing safety concerns for an Illinois portable sanitation contractor.
Pumper Minimizes Safety Concerns Amidst OSHA Inspection
Bradley Denton owns DropZone Portable Services Inc. in Joliet, Ill.

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It’s rarely a good thing when officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visit your business and cite it for violations. But in a turn-lemons-into-lemonade moment, it turned out to be beneficial for Bradley Denton and his company, DropZone Portable Services Inc. in Joliet, Ill.

Denton’s OSHA odyssey began in February 2012 when a former employee – who worked for the company for just a few days – filed complaints after leaving DropZone on his own accord. OSHA inspectors then showed up at the company to investigate four alleged health-and-safety violations.

That came as a complete surprise to Denton, who founded DropZone in 1997. Until that visit, DropZone – which rents and services portable restrooms in central Illinois and the metropolitan Chicago area, plus offers temporary fencing and septic-pumping services – enjoyed a spotless safety-compliance record, he says.

In the complaint, the former employee alleged that: employees who worked with glutaraldehyde were experiencing skin rashes; a 55-gallon drum of heavy-duty degreasing soap was not properly labeled with the names of the chemicals it contained, or with required safety warnings; mandated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) were not readily available to employees (operators must keep MSDSs on file so employees know the various safety precautions for handling certain substances); and employees did not receive hazardous-communication training materials for handling certain chemicals.

The first three allegations were dismissed; the last one was not. But during the inspection, other issues emerged. How Denton reacted – and the lessons he learned – may be instructive for others in the pumping industry.

Pumper: What was your initial reaction to the allegations?

Denton: I thought they were false. When the OSHA inspector came out, we went through each one and gave him our book of MSDSs. In particular, we showed him our MSDS for glutaraldehyde, which is a soap product used for washing hands. It won’t give you a skin rash; no one has ever had a rash on our premises. So two violations were taken out of the equation.

Then they took pictures of the area where we store our products and pictures of the warning labels that were clearly marked on our three chemical drums for soap, deodorant and fragrance spray. So we were told we were exempt on that charge, too. So the only remaining allegation was the one regarding hazardous-communication training, which it turns out we violated because we did it verbally instead of using a written communications program. So we developed a written training manual.

Pumper: What happened next?

Denton: Things got deeper. As OSHA reviewed the photos, they showed we were using a formaldehyde-based toilet deodorizer. That’s when all hell broke loose. Our supplier got nailed because he didn’t have the drum properly marked with a label saying it contained a potential cancer-causing chemical [formaldehyde], and we got nailed because we didn’t have the proper label on the drums, and for using a product without proper venting.

We signed an agreement right away, saying that we wouldn’t use formaldehyde-based products anymore. That took care of that; OSHA was happy about that.

The photos also showed that we had an old respirator sitting on pallet racking above the drums, in case anyone ever needed one. But it turns out that in order for employees to use a respirator, they need a medical breathing evaluation to make sure they won’t suffocate if they use a respirator, because their lungs aren’t strong enough to pull oxygen through the filters. So we threw out the respirator right away, because none of the products we use would require one anyway.

Pumper: What was the penalty for the violations?

Denton: Each of the three fines was $7,000, for a total of $21,000. But OSHA discounted them because we reacted fast. Also, if you pay by a certain date, they discount the fines even more. We worked ours down to a total of $2,400.

It helped that we were proactive … and that we opened that door and allowed them to come in [for the inspection]. When they noticed a problem, we jumped immediately to correct it. We took their advice. And they also reduced the fines because it was our first violation. Next time we won’t get as much leniency, if there is a next time.

Pumper:  Do you operate differently now?

Denton: Yes. Our guys now use face shields in lieu of safety glasses because the MSDSs for the products we use say we should use goggles or face shields. We still prefer safety glasses because they don’t fog up, but neither do the face shields.

We also now use a [formaldehyde-free] deodorant solution. It takes a lot more elbow grease to do things like clean the [restroom] floors. Now we use all ‘green’ products and they don’t work as well. We went proactive across the board about everything, even though OSHA wasn’t citing us for using these products.

We thought we were operating safely all these years and come to find out we could’ve been better. We’re more pro-safety than we were before.

Pumper:  How have your employees reacted to the changes?

Denton: Some of them would love to go back to the other stuff that works faster and better. But newer employees have no idea what the difference is, so they don’t mind it.

Pumper:  What can other pumpers learn from your experience?

Denton: I would urge other operators to go to the OSHA website [www.osha.gov] and look up anything that has to do with janitorial or cleaning supplies to learn about possible hazards, such as vapor inhalation while using fragrances. They should brush up on OSHA 200 logs for tracking injuries, and double-check all the products they use to be sure they’re providing the required personal-protection gear. They also should assess all the products they have in their shops – soaps, degreasers and so on.

On the other hand, OSHA lumps our industry under the SIC [Standard Industrial Classification] code for septic-tank operators and related services. Having our own category would help us better understand the requirements for all this stuff.

Pumper:  In the end, did this turn out to be a good thing for your company?

Denton: I think it did. Employees are our biggest asset, and keeping them safe is our top priority. We thought we were safe because of the knowledge we gained at trade association conventions and shows, but it turns out we didn’t know everything.

We always have labels on all our bottles – period. That way, everyone knows what’s in them … if someone who’s unfamiliar with our products goes into a cabinet and grabs a spray bottle or a plastic jug, they know what they’re using because it has the product’s name on it, along with a sticker that lists possible health concerns.

Even if you pour something from a gallon jug into a smaller spray bottle, the spray bottle needs to have the same warning label as the bottle from which you poured it. That way someone won’t mix, say, bleach with some caustic chemical because a spray bottle filled with bleach might look like fragrance spray. We ask the product manufacturer for some extra copies [of labels], or we photocopy labels and tape or glue them to the spray bottles. So if someone new jumps into a truck, everyone is on the same page.


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