ST. PETERSBURG — The federal government has cited a St. Petersburg company with safety and health violations and proposed fines of $200,900.
Scuba Clean Inc., a family-run boat cleaning business, was cited Thursday with three willful safety violations, which come with proposed penalties of $147,000. They are for hazards associated with divers not being trained, divers not being accompanied by another diver with continuous visual contact and using air hoses not rated for diving.
The company, at 2133 Second Ave. S, also was cited on 16 serious violations with possible penalties of $53,900.
"Management has demonstrated disregard for its employees' safety and health, and needs to take action immediately before there is a serious injury or fatality," said Les Grove, area director in Tampa of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The company disputes the violations, and says the OSHA standards and guidelines that the company was judged by apply to commercial diving operations like deepwater oil rigs, and not a business whose divers usually don't even go past 5 feet.
"It's truly mind-boggling," said owner Phil Secord, 54. "We're simple boat cleaners."
OSHA said the violations are related to use of a "hookah," diving equipment that uses a pump at the surface to deliver air rather than a scuba tank. Scuba Clean failed to provide equipment needed to safely perform "hookah" dive operations, to secure compressed air cylinders, and to develop and maintain a written chemical hazard communication program, the agency said.
Violations also include deficiencies relating to the storage of chlorine with other flammable liquids.
Secord said his divers don't even use hookahs and go through extensive training to learn how to scrub debris and dirt off the underside of boats. In 75 percent of the jobs, Secord said, his men are standing on the bottom of the surface in shallow water.
"I've been in business 30 years," Secord said. "We have cleaned 190,000 boats, and we have not had one in-water accident."
He said OSHA's interest in his company came late last year, after a disgruntled employee who had been fired made a complaint and wrote to local and national politicians and government officials. When two investigators were sent out, Secord said, they appeared clueless about simple diving procedures and the business.
OSHA confirmed its investigation was prompted by a complaint, but would release no further information because of confidentiality rules.
"The compliance officers we send out are fully trained," said Mike Wald, an OSHA spokesman. "We would not have issued violations if we did not believe they were real."
Scuba Clean said it plans to ask for a conference with the local OSHA area director to plead its case.