Some Gallatin Public Utilities employees working on older natural gas lines may have been unknowingly exposed to asbestos, according to testing that was conducted after more than a dozen “serious” safety violations were found at the department during a Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) inspection earlier this year.
The city was notified of the 13 violations last month following an inspection of the public utilities service center on July 2, according to a Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions obtained by the Gallatin News.
While five of the violations involving equipment safety and procedures were corrected by the Oct. 3 deadline, the city had requested a 30-day extension for the remaining eight asbestos-related items in order to performing testing on the gas lines in question.
Samples of pipe coating materials were collected from five separate locations in the gas distribution system and analyzed by Frost Environmental Services, according to David Kellogg, assistant superintendent of Gallatin Public Utilities. Of those samples, four tested positive for an asbestos-containing material.
“Based on the results of these tests we reached out to (an asbestos abatement firm) to provide a proposal for the periodic, on-call removal and disposal of the asbestos containing material on the gas lines,” Kellogg wrote in an email to the Gallatin News on Tuesday. “An agreement is in place… to have their trained personnel remove and dispose of the asbestos containing material from the gas lines prior to gas department personnel performing work on these gas lines.”
Work on the natural gas lines in question occurs approximately two or three times per month on average mostly when service to a building is disconnected, according to Kellogg. The work takes places outside in a ditch and takes between 30 minutes and 45 minutes to complete.
In all, there are 10 employees who work in the city’s natural gas department with “most all of them at some point in time” performing work on the gas lines.
If the city fails to correct the issues, citations could be issued, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“We always take TOSHA violations seriously and we always work expeditiously to correct any and all violations no matter the seriousness level,” Gallatin Risk Manager JamiAnn Hannah said. “We always want to make sure that our employees’ safety is of the utmost importance and that they go home at the end of the day healthy to their families.”
The TOSHA inspection of the Gallatin Public Utilities service center on Hancock Street earlier this year was prompted by a complaint the state agency received on June 19, according to a Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development letter that was sent to the city last month.
A copy of the complaint, obtained by the Gallatin News, alleged six safety hazards related to equipment and procedures at Gallatin Public Utilities. However, only one of the violations – a portable methane testing meter that was found to not have been calibrated since November 2015 – was found during the TOSHA investigation.
The remaining 12 issues that were found during the inspection were not included in the complaint.
“Each year across the United States, employees die in trenches and permit required confined spaces,” Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development spokesman Chris Cannon said in a statement about the department’s investigation into the allegations. “TOSHA takes these complaints, and its investigations into them, very seriously because… they could easily lead to an avoidable workplace fatality.”