Cooper Tire & Rubber Facility Faces $155,500 Fine After Failing To Address Common Workplace Safety Hazards

June 19, 2003

In the wake of a December accident, in which a worker nearly lost a hand, Cooper Standard Automotive's facility at 150th St., Cleveland, is facing citations and $155,500 in proposed fines from OSHA.

Alleged violations of safety standards include failure to protect workers from workplace hazards such as accidentally energized vertical plastic injection mold presses with the potential to amputate hands and fingers.

OSHA began its investigation of the automotive product manufacturer after the agency received a complaint alleging that an employee was injured while operating a plastic injection mold machine that was not properly guarded. The employee sustained injuries requiring surgery to a nearly amputated hand. As a result of the investigation, OSHA cited the business for machine guarding and energy lockout/tagout deficiencies as well as for failure to provide safety training, and other electrical hazards.

Cooper employs more than 23,000 workers at 55 manufacturing facilities in 13 countries. Cooper Standard Automotive was established in 1937 and is part of the North American Sealing Systems Division of Cooper Tire & Rubber Company headquartered in Finley, Ohio. Cooper has two plants in Cleveland, on 150th Street and 110th Street. Cooper began operations at the 150th Street facility in August 2002.

According to OSHA, the company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to appeal before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA Issues Safety and Health Bulletin on Hazards Associated with Striking Underground Gas Lines

A new Safety and Health Information Bulletin issued by OSHA advises contractors on hazards associated with striking underground gas lines during excavation work.

The advisory bulletin informs workers and employees about OSHA's requirements intended to prevent damage to underground utility installations during excavation work. The bulletin also recommends informing the pipeline operator immediately if the excavator causes damage to a pipeline and to call 911 or other emergency numbers if the damage results in a release of natural gas or other hazardous substances.

The bulletin details an incident in 1998, where a cable construction company installation crew in St. Cloud, Minn., struck and ruptured an underground gas pipeline, resulting in a natural gas leak. After the rupture, an explosion occurred, causing four fatalities and several other injuries.

OSHA's trenching and excavation standard establishes specific excavation requirements designed to protect workers and prevent accidental damage to underground utility installations. The bulletin addresses an employers' responsibility to establish a detailed work plan and train employees prior to excavations on the proper procedures for determining the locations of underground utilities. Workers should coordinate with utility companies to establish locations of underground installations and take necessary precautions to prevent damaging them.

Preliminary Findings Confirm Blast in NC Was a Dust Explosion Fueled by Plastic Powder

Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) told a community audience in Kinston, NC on June 18, 2003, that last January's massive blast at medical device maker West Pharmaceutical Services, which killed six workers and injured dozens more, was in fact an explosion of fine plastic powder used in the manufacturing of rubber products.

The dust explosion occurred above an area where rubber strips were coated with moistened polyethylene powder, investigators told the audience at the Kinston High School Performing Arts Center auditorium. Although made from a plastic similar to that in milk jugs, the powder when dry is as fine as talcum and is capable of forming explosive mixtures in air, according to CSB test results made public.

"We held this meeting to brief the community on our findings to date and hear from members of the public who were affected," said CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt, who presided at the session. "The full Board will convene here in Kinston when the staff investigation is concluded to issue our final safety recommendations in this case. The Board is deeply concerned by this event and the subsequent plant explosion in Corbin, Kentucky, which claimed seven lives. The dangers of explosive dust are not well known, and helping industry to understand this insidious hazard certainly will be a priority."

According to CSB lead investigator Stephen Selk "Our testing has now confirmed that actual polyethylene powder recovered from the plant ruins is explosive when mixed with air. The material contains enough energy to account for the level of destruction we observed," Selk continued. He also noted the heavy damage had thus far prevented his team from determining the source of the ignition that triggered the dust explosion.

"The polyethylene powder was used as a nonstick coating for rubber sheeting made at the plant," Selk added. "During the production process, the plant's ventilation system drew fine dust particles into the space above an unsealed, suspended ceiling, where the dust settled and built up."

CSB Investigator Angela Blair told the group that on January 29 the five conditions necessary for a dust explosion were all met at the West plant: fuel, oxygen, dispersion, confinement, and ignition. "The dust was the fuel. Dispersed in the air, it formed an explosive mixture," Blair said.

Blair explained that by installing a suspended or false ceiling years earlier, the company had inadvertently created an area where dust could accumulate out of view, and also created a space where a dust explosion could occur and spread. It is for these reasons, Blair added, that unsealed ceilings are not recommended where hazardous dusts may be present.

Blair said investigators had recovered numerous ceiling tiles that were scorched exclusively on the upper surface, confirming the origin of the dust explosion within the overhead space. "Eyewitnesses heard a sound like rolling thunder, as a rapidly expanding chain of explosions moved through the ceiling space and literally tore the building apart."

Blair and fellow investigator Lisa Long described the sequence of events that ultimately led to the accumulation of dust. Raw materials from a ground-level process area called the "kitchen" were conveyed to a large mixer on the upper floor, where the rubber was blended. The rubber mass was then dropped through a chute to a mill back on the lower level, where it was rolled into flat strips. The rubber strips were then fed through rollers and coated using a tank of polyethylene powder slurried in water.

Ms. Blair said, "Once the rubber was dry, what remained on the surface was a baby powder-like coating. But in the course of drying the rubber, fans blew some of the fine powder into the air. Much of the dust settled in the processing area, where the company had a regular program to clean the dust from equipment, walls, and floors. However, some dust also migrated through small openings in the suspended ceiling, drawn by air conditioning intakes located overhead. Over time the dust accumulated above the ceiling -- out of normal view -- on tiles, conduits, ducts, and light fixtures."

Lead investigator Selk pointed out that weeks prior to the explosion, maintenance workers had seen layers of dust coating surfaces above the suspended ceiling. "Tragically there was no recognition of the explosion hazard posed by this accumulated dust," Selk said.

The CSB is an independent federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, determines root causes, and issues findings and safety recommendations to prevent recurrence.

Railcar Companies Fined $427,500 For Confined Space Violations

The alleged failure of three Hugo, Okla., companies to train employees and give them adequate gear for working inside confined spaces with unsafe air has resulted in proposed penalties totaling $427,500 from OSHA.

OSHA's Oklahoma City office began its investigation of R Repair Kar, Seaboard Container Cleaning and 1st Odyssey Group on Dec. 10 following complaints it received that employees were entering and performing work inside railcars without adequate respiratory equipment. Several employees have suffered long-term illnesses due to the exposure.

"When untrained workers enter confined spaces with unsafe atmospheric conditions they can easily become captive victims," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "OSHA standards are clear. Workers must be trained to test the air to ensure it is safe before each and every time they enter a confined space."

R Repair Kar, a company that repairs railcar tanks and boxcars, filed for Chapter 11. Seaboard Container Cleaning Inc. assumed R Repair Kar's Hugo-based facility in April. The 1st Odyssey Group provides personnel services including on-site safety and health audits to R Repair Kar. Each company was cited with the same three alleged willful and nine alleged serious violations with a fine of $142,500.

"All three companies had a hand in allowing the unsafe working conditions to continue," said James Brown, OSHA area director in Oklahoma City. "However, the Odyssey Group had the authority to put an immediate stop to this by removing its personnel from the hazards."

The three alleged willful violations were for failing to provide fall protection, failing to develop and implement an adequate respiratory protection program and failing to evaluate and implement permit required confined spaces as required by the OSHA regulations.

Among the alleged serious violations were failure to ensure orderly walkways on an elevated walkway platform; unguarded floor openings; lack of a hearing conservation program; failure to ensure fit testing for workers wearing hearing protectors; failure to require the use of eye and face equipment for employees engaged in welding operations; failure to provide drinking water and failure to perform initial lead and cadmium exposure determination.

The companies have 15 days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the Oklahoma City area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Safety and Health Hazards Bring $431,650 In Fines To Pace Industries, Inc.

Pace Industries, Inc. of Harrison, Ark., allegedly failed to protect employees against burns from molten metal and to follow safety standards for guarding machinery and preventing falls, according to citations issued to the aluminum castings manufacturer by OSHA.

OSHA has proposed penalties of $431,650 for almost 50 alleged health and safety violations the agency uncovered during an inspection that began Dec. 9, 2002. The Harrison plant was selected for the inspection based on the high rate of injuries and illnesses it reported to OSHA last year. The company employs about 600 workers at its 62/65 Bypass facility in Harrison. Corporate headquarters are in Carthage, Mo.

The inspection consisted of both safety and health components. Citations issued for the safety inspection included two alleged willful, 26 serious and one other-than-serious violation. The two willful safety citations were for failure to conduct annual inspections of energy control procedures and improper machine guarding.

Citations for alleged serious violations included failure to maintain safe clearances for mechanical handling equipment; not having covers or guardrails for open ditches and pits; not providing appropriate personal protective equipment to prevent employees from falling; failure to ensure proper operation of industrial trucks; failure to ensure proper installation and use of electrical equipment and failure to ensure that a qualified person tested equipment to be de-energized prior to performing work. The other-than-serious violation was for failing to ensure that open-sided floors and platforms were properly guarded.

Citations issued for the health inspection included three alleged willful, 15 serious, and two other-than-serious violations. The willful health violations were for failing to ensure that employees exposed to being struck by molten metal used proper clothing, foot protection and appropriate personal protective equipment.

Among the alleged serious health violations were failure to ensure that employees were prohibited from entering danger zones without proper personal protective equipment; failure to prevent employees from stepping or falling into furnace metal wells while performing maintenance; not ensuring that work areas were kept clean and orderly; not providing hearing protection to employees overexposed to noise; failure to provide emergency eyewash and body shower facilities and failure to develop and implement a proper hazard communications program. The two other than serious health violations were for failing to ensure that exits were properly marked and failing to develop and implement a proper respiratory protection program.

A willful citation is issued for violations committed with disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition about which the employer knew or should have known.
An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

Pace Industries, Inc. has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the Little Rock area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

National Safety Council President Identifies Top National Safety Issues

National Safety Council President Alan McMillan identified the seven most pressing safety issues facing the nation at a press conference June 10, 2003, in Washington D.C. recognizing National Safety Month.

McMillan presented 2002 data on fatalities associated with each of the seven issues:

  • Seat Belts and Child Seats - 19,100 deaths
  • Drunk Driving - 18,000 deaths
  • Elderly Falls - 11,200 deaths
  • Teen Drivers - 9,000 deaths
  • Large Trucks - 4,900 deaths
  • Pedestrians - 4,800 deaths
  • Employer Leadership -- Workplace - 2,800 deaths + 2,100 deaths in motor vehicles
  • Employer Leadership -- Off-the-Job – 49,600 employee deaths + 14,900 family member deaths

McMillan discussed National Safety Council initiatives addressing these issues and said one of his goals is "to help our society understand the issues of real risk, true hazards and often, the fear of them."

"During National Safety Month in June, and in fact, all year long, it is our job to provide perspective and context about risk in our world," he said. "Since 9-11, I believe the fear factor in our society has increased. Some people are fearful of airplanes. Others are fearful of the latest virus. Ultimately, only the facts can overcome fear and the facts are that far more people die in automobiles than in airplanes. More people have died from injuries suffered in their homes than have died this year from SARS or last year from West Nile virus. Four times more people die every year from falls in their homes than died at the World Trade Center."

"This is not to in any way diminish the tragedy of a plane crash, the SARS and West Nile viruses or the World Trade Center attacks," McMillan said. "Each of these are tragic events with tragic loss of human life. My concern is that when we focus only on high-profile events, people may misinterpret or misunderstand true risk in our world."

The National Safety Council is a not-for-profit, nongovernmental, international public service organization dedicated to protecting life and promoting health. Members of NSC include more than 37,500 businesses, labor organizations, schools, public agencies, private groups and individuals. Founded in 1913, and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1953, the primary focus of the NSC is preventing injuries on highways and in homes, workplaces and communities.