A small firm in upstate New York that produces plastic balls used for oil and gas drilling plans to formally contest more than $100,000 in proposed fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
On April 13, OSHA slammed the seven-employee Hyatt Ball Co. with 48 citations resulting from inspections that began in October 2014. Responding at the time to complaints, officials found the Fort Edward, New York, firm lacked basic safety and health protections to prevent fires, explosions and uncontrolled releases of chemicals, including formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
Hyatt had 15 business days to either comply with the order and pay the $105,200 fine or contest the findings before an independent OSHA review commission. It opted for the latter earlier this week, as the local Post-Star reported. At the same time, the company is working toward a settlement with OSHA, according to agency spokesman Ted Fitzgerald. Contesting the findings provides the company with an alternative if the settlement process doesn't pan out favorably.
Hyatt’s manufacturing process requires the storage and use of 1,900 pounds of flammable formaldehyde solution. Nevertheless, the company had no audible fire alarms or approved sprinkler system in place, according to the citations. Exit routes were unmarked and unblocked, and flammable liquids were improperly stored.
Hyatt Ball's legal pushback illustrates the relatively loose compliance standards afforded to employers accused of federal health and safety violations. So long as citations do not constitute an "imminent danger," employers that contest the proposed violations do not have to address the issues that inspectors cited within the federally proposed time frame. “Are they legally required to do it? No, but they are encouraged,” says OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald.
A representative from Hyatt declined to comment.
Oil and gas drillers sometimes use plastic balls like the ones produced by Hyatt as part of the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. Companies inject the “frac balls” into wells in order to help build up pressure that blasts open shale rock and releases hydrocarbons that are trapped inside the formation.