Upstream Oil, Gas Hazards Added to OSHA Severe Violator Program as “High-Emphasis Hazards”

According to a recently issued OSHA memorandum, over twenty years’ worth of statistics show that upstream oil and gas production operations are plagued by fatalities at a rate five to eight times greater than the national average. Based on these alarming statistics, OSHA implemented a new policy under its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (“SVEP”) captured by Instruction CPL 02-00-149 Section XI, which endeavors to curb industry fatalities. The memorandum concerning this new SVEP Section was quietly issued to field officials and attorneys at a recent Florida bar association meeting.

Specifically, this SVEP Section provides that any time an OSHA non-fatality inspection of certain NAICS-categorized employers results in two or more willful violations, the matter will be considered a “severe violator enforcement” case. Employers categorized as “Oil and Gas Production Services, Drilling and Well Servicing,” and “Upstream Oil and Gas Industry” under the NAICS codes 211111, 213111 and 213112, were the only targeted employers.

Previously, the Obama administration’s controversial SVEP directive identified high-emphasis hazards, but did so without regard to individual NAICS categories. Therefore, this policy change marks the first time that OSHA utilized industry classification codes to enforce SVEP directives. Critics to the policy and industry representatives alike object to its enforcement on the grounds that the policy unreasonably targets specific industries, as opposed to high-emphasis hazards in general. The policy’s adversaries contend that unfair, severe outcomes will inevitably result.

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