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EMA director: Hawkins office holders ignoring safety hazards

Jeff Bobo • Jun 16, 2013 at 5:07 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Safety inspections in offices at the Hawkins County Justice Center revealed hazards such as overloaded circuits, paper and boxes stacked up against circuit breakers, and curling irons and personal heaters that stay plugged in unattended all the time.

Those should be problems that are easy to eliminate, but Hawkins County commissioners heard a report Thursday that some office holders are refusing to remove those safety hazards.

Hawkins County can’t fine or otherwise penalize county office holder for failure to follow safety recommendations.

The County Commission’s Public Safety Committee said Thursday it won’t hesitate to inform the public if office holders continue to ignore safety hazard.

Emergency Management Agency director Gary Murrell conducts regular safety inspections on county facilities, and reports his findings and recommendations to the person in charge of each office or facility.

“We’re catching a lot of flack over the hazard inspections,” Murrell told the committee Thursday. “The employees or the office holders seems to think we’re doing it against them, but we’re not. We’re doing it county-wide. Some of the things we’re finding are ridiculous.”

Murrell added, “We found curling irons plugged up two or three at a time in a room at the Justice Center. We found a cubicle that had all kinds of paper work with an electric heater plugged up under it, and on it with no one at the cubicle. There hadn’t been anyone there for two or three days.”

The inspections are intended to catch potential hazards and prevent potential property damages and injuries, but also to prevent the county from receiving fines from OSHA or the fire marshal’s office.

Certain office holders, who Murrell wouldn’t identify in Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, aren’t complying with his written safety recommendations.

Murrell told the committee that office holders know he has no real authority over them to force them to do anything he recommends.

He told the committee he’s found electrical outlets covered with paper and circuits that are overloaded, and in one Justice Center office every cubicle has a personal heater plugged in, and the bathroom has multiple curling irons that stay plugged up all the time.

“We found where box, paper and combustibles are stacked next to breaker boxes,” Murrell said. “That’s not safe.”

Murrell was looking for guidance from the committee Thursday as to what can be done when his safety recommendations are ignored.

Committee members were asking each other the same questions. One thing they do know is if there are fines levied by OSHA or the fire marshal’s office, it will be county taxpayers who end up paying the bill.

“Each office holder is a unit within themselves as far as being an elected official,” said committee member Dwight Carter. “But because they’re an entity of Hawkins County, we should have the authority to say you have to come into compliance with all of these (safety recommendations). I understand we have no real enforcement mechanism other than to communicate and make it public.”

Committee member Stacy Vaughan said the committee should send these office holders a letter asking them to explain to the committee in person why they won’t comply with Murrell’s safety recommendations.

“Maybe they don’t understand why they have to comply,” Vaughan added.

The committee agreed to give the office holders in question 30 days to alleviate the problem or they will have to appear before the committee in person to explain why it hasn’t been done.

“They’re accountable to the electorate, and I think that would put some pressure on them,” Carter said.

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