Steven Michael Braithwaite and Adam Thomas Braithwaite, of Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services LLC, were sentenced today in Omaha for willful violations worker safety standards that led to two worker deaths, knowing violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act involving hazardous waste and knowledge endangerment, knowing submission of false documents at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and perjury. Steven Braithwaite is sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and $100,000 in restitution. Adam Braithwaite is scheduled to spend one year in prison and will pay $100,000 in restitution. Additionally, NRCS as well as individual defendants must serve five year probation and pay a $21,000 fee.
According to court documents, NRCS workers had been working inside and on top a rail car tanker car on April 14, 2015. They were removing petroleum residue from the tank when flammable gasses ignited and exploded. Two workers were killed in the blast, while another was injured. NRCS accepted the job following an inquiry from a customer in January 2015. The SDS (Safety Data Sheet) for the product inside the railcar described it as natural gasoline, with a severe-class four flammability rating (the most dangerous rating). The SDS further indicated that the natural gasoline would ignite at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and contained benzene, which is a cancer hazard.
NRCS sent two employees into the tanker car despite not having performed a test for benzene or a high explosive gas level test at their beginning of the job. The two employees began to remove the toxic, ignitable substance, with a third worker helping from outside. The third employee pulled buckets full of waste from the top hatch and emptied them into a regular dumpster. They would be taken to a local landfill even though the residue was hazardous. The explosion occurred approximately one hour after the cleaning was completed.
Steven Braithwaite was the president of NRCS and the majority owner. He was responsible for all aspects, including safety and environmental issues. Adam Braithwaite served as vice president and was a minority owner at NRCS. He also dealt with worker safety and environmental issues.
According to the plea agreements, OSHA officials conducted inspections at NRCS before the explosion. They also cited NRCS principals for violating OSHA safety regulations about confined space entries. Rail tanker cars fall under the definition of confined space in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. These spaces can be dangerous because they could contain toxic, explosive, or unbreathable gases, among other reasons. Steven Braithwaite, after an inspection by NRCS, signed a Feb. 5, 2015 written agreement in which he stated that NRCS had been testing benzene for at least July 2014. This was a fabrication. OSHA returned to NRCS in February 2015 to conduct a follow up inspection. Steven Braithwaite refused to allow the inspectors to inspect. Adam Braithwaite presented falsified documents to OSHA claiming to show that NRCS had purchased equipment to test railcars for benzene, and had taken other safety precautions. NRCS hadn’t been following these steps. Adam Braithwaite falsely testified in an OSHA hearing, that NRCS had purchased the benzene testing equipment.
The defendants knew what was required, but they failed to enforce worker safety standards, mishandled toxic wastes violating RCRA, and knowingly submitted false documentation to OSHA during inspections to cover up their mistakes. Two of their workers were killed by their decisions. Steven Braithwaite admitted guilt to the indictment’s counts 2-4 on July 12. Adam Braithwaite admitted guilt to counts 2-3, 8-9, 22. NRCS pleaded guilty for counts 1-21.
Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, of the Justice Departments Environment and Natural Resources Division, stated that every worker, even those who do dangerous jobs, has the right to a safe work environment. Unfortunately, two workers were killed at Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services as a result of the defendants’ inability to follow the law. The sentences today provide some measure of justice for their families.
Violations of worker safety standards and environmental standards can sometimes be dismissed as merely regulatory offenses. However, this case shows that regulations really do matter, stated Jan W.Sharp of Nebraska. If the defendants had adhered to regulations they were familiar with, no one would have been inside a tanker filled with toxic gases in explosive concentrations. They would not have dumped hazardous waste in regular dumpsters if they had followed regulations. Two men would have gone home had they followed regulations at the conclusion of their workdays.
Two workers died tragically because of the defendants’ failure to comply with worker safety and environmental regulations, stated Larry Starfield, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to those who intend to violate these laws that they will be held accountable.
Steven and Adam Braithwaite ignored OSHA regulations, failed to follow safety protocols, and gave false information to OSHA. This led to the tragic loss of two lives. We will continue to collaborate with OSHA and other law enforcement partners to hold those who hinder the Department of Labor agencies in their mission to fulfill their missions accountable..
Steven and Adam Braithwaite opted to protect themselves by providing false documentation OSHA after the deaths of two employees. Although they made it appear they had followed safety rules, Christine Heri, Regional Solicitor, U.S. Department of Labor Chicago, stated that they willfully ignored warnings of an explosion and put these two men in danger. The Department of Labor is determined to bring justice for the families of these workers as well as hold employers accountable for their legal obligation to work safely on the job.
The EPAs Criminal Investigation Division as well as the Department of Labors Office of Inspector General investigated this case. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Krishna S. Dighe of Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. attorney Donald J. Kleine of District of Nebraska.