Employer Faces $105,500 Fine After Failing To Correct Workplace Safety Hazards

February 26, 2004

A Springfield, Ohio business, Fuel Systems LLC, is facing serious and repeat citations and $105,500 in proposed fines from OSHA.

OSHA levied penalties for repeated violations of the federal workplace safety and health regulations after determining that the fuel tank supplier failed to correct several hazards identified in a previous inspection. Among those hazards are a lack of training on the hazards of hydrofluoric acid, a lack of protective gear for workers handling the acid and the lack of an emergency eyewash facility where the acid is handled. Repeat violations were also issued for exit route obstructions and the lack of stair rails. Serious and other cited violations included the storage of oxygen and acetylene cylinders, hazardous labeling, and missing material safety data sheets.

"This company was told in 2002 of the problems in its safety and health program and of the risk to workers," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "OSHA's first commitment is to protect workers from tragic workplace accidents and debilitating exposure to chemicals. We stand ready to assist employers to make their workplaces safe, but we will fully enforce standards when we must."

OSHA inspected the Springfield facility as a follow-up to a comprehensive inspection conducted in August, 2002, during which many of the same violations were discovered. That inspection resulted in penalties totaling $45,800. OSHA Area Director Richard Gilgrist, Cincinnati, said that about 126 workers are employed in the Springfield plant, and that Fuel Systems LLC has eight plants nationwide.

OSHA Cites Two Alabama Companies Following Fatal Accident

OSHA has cited Burkes Mechanical, Inc., and Gulf States Paper Corporation following the investigation of a Sept. 24 fatal accident at a Demopolis pulp and cardboard manufacturing plant. Proposed penalties total $88,200.

On the day of the accident, Burkes' employees were removing wood and bark chips underneath a moving conveyor belt and shoveling them back onto the conveyor. An employee reportedly went into a narrow opening to remove bark that had accumulated under the belt. His shovel caught between a roller and the underside of the moving conveyor, pulling him into the machinery and trapping him.

"Following the basic safety rules would have prevented this tragic death," said Ken Atha, OSHA's Mobile area director. "The machinery should have been turned off and the energy source isolated; the fact that Burkes knew these rules compounds the tragedy."

OSHA's report shows that maintenance employees were working in the same area the day before the accident. While they were working, the conveyor belts had been locked out. The report also notes that Burkes had a written "lockout-tagout" program.

OSHA issued one willful citation, with a proposed penalty of $63,000, to Burkes Mechanical, Inc. for failing to render the conveyor inoperable before employees began work.

The company also received three serious citations, with $18,900 in proposed penalties, for failing to follow "lockout-tagout" procedures, provide training to employees and furnish instructions on how to stop the conveyor in the event of an emergency.

Gulf States, the owner of the plant, received one serious citation, with a $6,300 proposed penalty for failing to provide warning signs around the conveyor alerting employees of "caught-in" hazards.

The companies have 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA Fines Toshiba International Corp. Following Fatal Accident

OSHA has cited Toshiba International Corp. of Houston for exposing workers to electrical hazards following the electrocution of an employee last August.

"To ensure that injury and illness rates continue to decline, we must make sure that employers protect employees from workplace hazards, " said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "The significant penalty of $162,450 in this case demonstrates the Administration's commitment to protecting the health and safety of American workers."

Toshiba International was cited with two alleged willful and nine alleged serious violations following an OSHA inspection that began Aug. 23, when an employee was electrocuted after coming in contact with an energized 4,160-volt feeder in a substation.

Toshiba International Corp. operates under Toshiba America Inc., headquartered in New York, which employs about 10,000 workers company-wide, 800 of who work in Houston.

The alleged willful violations were for failing to adequately train employees in safety procedures during maintenance work and the dangers of electrical hazards. Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

The alleged serious violations include failing to provide employees with written lockout procedures to prevent the unintended energizing of equipment, failing to schedule periodic lockout audits, failing to provide machine guarding, failing to indicate high voltage warnings at substations and failing to protect electrical conductors from abrasions. "Lockout/tagout" procedures must be followed to make sure the energy source is properly tagged and locked before being used. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA Houston South area director, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA Identifies Workplaces with Highest Injury and Illness Rates

The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health has alerted approximately 13,000 employers throughout the country that their injury and illness rates are significantly higher than the national average and encourages them to take steps to address safety and health hazards in the workplace.

In a letter to those employers, John Henshaw explained that while their rates were higher than most other businesses in the country, the notification was simply a proactive step to encourage employers to take steps now to reduce the rates and improve safety and health for their employees.

"The intent of the notification is to alert employers that their injury and illness rates are above average," Henshaw said, "but, as important, we also want to offer them assistance to help reduce those rates. This process is not necessarily a negative; on the contrary, it provides employers a tremendous opportunity to take steps to improve workplace safety and health and create value for their organization."

OSHA identified establishments with the nation's highest workplace injury and illness rates based on data reported by 80,000 employers surveyed by the agency last year (that survey collected injury and illness data from calendar year 2002). Workplaces receiving the alert letters had seven or more injuries or illnesses resulting in days away from work, restricted work activity, or job transfer (DART) for every 100 full-time workers. Nationwide, the average U.S. workplace had fewer than three DART instances for every 100 workers.

Henshaw sent letters to all employers with high injury and illness rates, and provided copies of their injury and illness data, along with a list of the most frequently violated OSHA standard for their specific industry. While addressing his concerns for the high rates, Henshaw also offered the agency's help in turning those rates around, suggesting, among other things, using the free safety and health consultation services provided by OSHA through the states, developing an internal process to identify and control hazards, or hiring outside safety and health consultants.

"The data collection initiative is conducted each year and gives us a clearer picture of those establishments with higher than normal injury and illness rates," he said. "This information allows us the opportunity to place our inspection resources where they're most needed and to plan outreach and compliance assistance programs where they will benefit the most."

This list does not designate those earmarked for any future inspection. Also, the sites listed are those in states covered by federal OSHA; the list does not include employers in the 21 states and one territory (Puerto Rico) that operate OSHA-approved state plans covering the private sector.