U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company, No. 21-11681 (11th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether the Tampa Electric Company violated OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (“HAZWOPER”) standard when employees at one of its power plants responded to an ammonia release without donning certain protective gear.
The case arose when one of the underground pipes became over-pressurized, and, as it was designed to do, the system automatically diverted ammonia from that pipe to the sump. About 45 minutes after the ammonia began to vent, a security guard heard the alarm sounding at the skid and smelled ammonia. He began having trouble breathing and reported the leak. Once notified, control-room personnel dispatched “rovers”—specially trained response employees—to manage the ammonia release
Because the rovers arrived at the skid without a “self-contained breathing apparatus[es],” OSHA fined Tampa Electric $9,054 under 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.120(q)(3)(iv). Tampa Electric appealed the citation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that Tampa Electric’s response to the ammonia release wasn’t an “emergency response” within the meaning of the HAZWOPER standard and, therefore, that the company hadn’t violated that standard. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review and affirmed the order of the Commission. The court held that the release here was controlled— or, in the words of the regulation, that it wasn’t “uncontrolled.” Because the response to it wasn’t an “emergency response,” the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply to the rovers’ conduct. And because the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply, Tampa Electric didn’t violate it.