The owners of Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services (NRCS) were sentenced Jan. 14 for willful violations of federal safety standards resulting in an explosion that killed two workers.
Steven Braithwaite, president and owner of NRCS, will serve 30 months in prison for his role in the offenses, and Adam Braithwaite, the company’s vice president and co-owner, will serve one year and one day.
Each will pay $100,000 in restitution, and NRCS and both Braithwaites must serve five years of probation and a $21,000 fine, according to a Department of Justice news release.
The Braithwaites and NRCS pleaded guilty July 12, 2021, to:
- willful violations of federal worker safety standards that resulted in two worker deaths
- violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) involving hazardous waste
- endangerment to others
- submission of false documents to OSHA, and
2 workers died in rail tanker car
NRCS was a railcar cleaning service company, and its services extended to rail tanker cars, which often involved sending employees inside the tanks to scrape and remove residual gasoline, ethanol, petroleum by-products, pesticides, herbicides and food-grade products.
On April 14, 2015, two NRCS workers were sent into a tanker car containing flammable residue and were killed when the contents of the car ignited and exploded while they were inside cleaning.
Following an investigation by OSHA, the company was accused of failing to implement worker safety standards and covering that fact up during the inspection.
NRCS was also accused of mishandling the hazardous waste it removed from tanker cars during the cleaning process.
Both Braithwaites handled environmental and worker safety issues for the company.
Lied to OSHA about testing
Prior to the fatal explosion, OSHA conducted inspections of NRCS and cited it for violating confined space safety standards.
After an inspection, Steven Braithwaite entered into a Feb. 5, 2015, written agreement with OSHA in which he said his company had been testing for benzene since July 2014, which later proved to be a lie.
OSHA returned to NRCS in March 2015 to conduct a follow-up inspection, but Steven Braithwaite turned the inspectors away.
Adam Braithwaite later submitted falsified documents showing the company purchased equipment to test the contents of railcars for benzene and had taken other required safety precautions.
However, NRCS hadn’t been taking those steps, and Adam Braithwaite also falsely testified under oath in an OSHA hearing that his company had purchased the benzene testing equipment.
Although they knew what was required, the Braithwaites and NRCS failed to implement worker safety standards, mishandled hazardous wastes violating the RCRA and knowingly submitted false documents to OSHA during inspections as a cover up.
“Those decisions led to the deaths of two of their workers,” the Justice Department states.