OSHA levies large fines against six companies

In two high-profile cases, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC, has issued citations with penalties totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in each case.

The first case involves the DeCoster Egg Farms business in Turner, ME. OSHA fined five of the eight companies that have taken over the operation since the investigation began. Some of the alleged violations are for failure to live up to terms of a 1997 settlement agreement between OSHA and DeCoster, a leading egg producer.

OSHA proposed total penalties of $446,500 against: Maine Ag, Maine Contract Farming, Turner Maintenance & Services, PFS Loading Services, and Northern Transportation — all located in Turner.

In July 1996, OSHA cited DeCoster Egg Farms for violations with penalties totaling $3.6 million according to information released by Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. Ten months later, the Labor Department reached a settlement with DeCoster to correct the hazards. While OSHA reports that some progress has been made, many hazards still must be addressed and corrected. The companies that took over portions of DeCoster’s business are now responsible for living up to the agreement, OSHA says.

Dangerous conditions for which OSHA issued citations against the firms include:

- failure to adequately support a metal catwalk;

- unsafe elevators;

- water accumulation in chicken pits;

- floor holes in chicken barns;

- unsafe electrical equipment;

- hearing conservation violations;

- deficiencies in respiratory protection;

- lack of personal protective equipment for chemical exposures;

- lack of fall protection;

- inadequate emergency and fire prevention plan;

- failure to have material safety data sheets in Spanish;

- lack of hazard communication training.

In the May 1997 settlement agreement, DeCoster agreed to pay $2 million, which it did, and to make significant improvements in safety and health over three years. An independent auditor later found DeCoster in substantial compliance at the 10-12 month point.

In September 1997, A.J. "Jack" DeCoster sold or leased portions of DeCoster Egg Farm’s operations to eight companies owned and operated by former employees. The new companies service equipment, raise chickens, transport products, and market eggs. DeCoster retained ownership of the farm’s 3.5 million chickens as well as its real estate.

OSHA is issuing citations for one alleged willful violation with a penalty of $70,000; 21 alleged repeat violations with a total penalty of $232,900; 41 alleged serious violations with a total penalty of $117,200; 12 alleged other-than-serious violations with a total penalty of $16,400; and one alleged failure-to-abate violation with a penalty of $10,000.

22 citations related to general duty clause

Twenty-two of the citations were for violations of Section 5 (a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the general duty clause, which requires employers to keep the workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Most of these citations were for alleged violations of the 1997 settlement agreement.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A repeat violation is a violation of any standard, regulation, rule, or order where, upon reinspection, a substantially similar violation is found.

To be the basis of a repeat violation, the original citation must be final and not under contest. A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

An other-than-serious violation is a hazardous condition that would probably not cause death or serious physical harm, but would have a direct and immediate relationship to the safety and/or health of employees.

Machine guarding, PPE failures

In the other large penalty case, OSHA has cited Car Component Technologies of Bedford, NH, for numerous alleged willful, serious, repeat, and other-than-serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and has proposed penalties totaling $366,300 for those violations.

According to David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire, the alleged violations were uncovered during an inspection of the company’s facilities located at 10 Iron Horse Drive, Bedford, NH, conducted between Dec. 3, 1998, and March 16, 1999. At this plant, the company, which employs 600 workers, re-manufactures drive axles for automobiles and light trucks.

"The safety and health conditions we found in this plant were disturbing," says May. "Our inspection revealed that, since 1994, employees of the company sustained 240 injuries as the result of improper personal protective equipment and/or no personal protective equipment. In addition, employees sustained 57 injuries in accidents resulting from lack of machine guarding.

"On the health side," he says, "employees were exposed to excessive noise levels, hazardous chemicals and appalling restroom conditions, to name a few. There is simply no excuse for any employer to require their employees to work under such hazardous conditions, especially when the employer has the knowledge and the means to make the necessary improvements."

Consequently, May says, the company is being cited for the following alleged safety and health violations:

- Two alleged willful violations, carrying total proposed penalties of $99,000 for failing to provide to employees and require their use of personal protective equipment such as arm gauntlets, puncture-resistant gloves, head protection, eye and face protection, and puncture-resistant aprons to protect employees from the hazards of flying parts and flying metal slivers; and failing to properly guard air vise machines to protect employees both when the vises were closing and when they opened.

- Fourteen alleged serious violations, including proposed penalties totaling $40,500 for these violations:

• allowing accumulations of ball bearings and axle grease on the floor which created slip and fall hazards;

• failing to provide guard rails on open-sided, elevated floors;

• allowing the continued use of a broken portable wooden ladder;

• failing to identify as such several "permit required confined spaces" (PRCS) in the plant, failing to inform employees of the existence, location, and dangers posed by PRCS, failing to develop and implement a PRCS safety program, failing to test PRCS for oxygen content, flammable vapors or toxic air contaminates prior to employee entry, failing to prepare PRCS entry permits, and failing to train employees required to enter PRCS;

• failing to develop and utilize written hazardous energy control procedures for several machines, including annual inspections;

• failing to provide employee training on hazardous energy control and failing to affix lock-out/tag-out devices to each energy isolating device;

• allowing a forklift operator to operate his machine in an unsafe manner;

• failing to remove an unsafe forklift truck from service;

• failing to guard machine crush and pinch points;

• failing to equip a radial arm saw with a power cutout device;

• failing to properly guard a radial arm saw;

• failing to guard drive chains and sprockets;

• failing to cover exposed electrical bus bars in breaker panels;

• using unsafe electrical extension cords and supply cables.

- One alleged other-than-serious violation, with no proposed penalty, for failing to chock the rear wheels of highway truck-tractors and trailers to prevent them from rolling while they were boarded with forklifts.

- Four alleged willful violations, including proposed penalties totaling $198,000 for these violations:

• failing to establish an audiometric testing program for employees exposed to high noise levels, failing to train such employees, and failing to conduct noise monitoring;

• failing to ensure employees exposed to excessive noise levels were provided with appropriate and suitable hearing protectors;

• failing to correct unsanitary restroom conditions which included a sink, water cooler and a cracked and leaking toilet, as well as a lavatory with no hot water;

• incomplete hazard communication program, failing to maintain material safety data sheets for each hazardous chemical in the workplace, and failing to train employees on the hazardous chemicals in their work areas.

- Eight alleged serious violations, carrying proposed penalties totaling $23,400 for these violations:

• failing to locate sprinkler heads on the downstream and upstream sides of a flammable spray finishing booth filter, and failing to maintain at least 3 feet of clear space on all sides of spray booths;

• failing to provide employees with protective equipment to guard against contact with chemicals, temperature extremes, thermal burns, and hazardous chemical spills and failing to assess the workplace to determine hazards requiring the use of personal protective equipment;

• failing to provide adequate eye and body flushing facilities;

• inadequate written exposure control plan for bloodborne pathogens;

• failing to observe universal precautions to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials and failing to provide first-aid responders with appropriate personal protective equipment;

• allowing potentially contaminated materials to be disposed of in the regular trash;

• following an incident, failing to make available hepatitis B vaccinations to first aid responders and janitorial staff;

• failing to ensure appropriate employees participated in bloodborne pathogen training.

- One alleged repeat violation with a $5,400 penalty for improperly completed logs of workplace injuries and illnesses.

- Five alleged other-than-serious violations carrying no proposed penalties for these violations:

• failing to post a bathroom door as "Not An Exit;"

• failing to make available the OSHA noise exposure standard in the workplace;

• allowing employees to consume food and drink in areas exposed to toxic materials;

• allowing storage of food and beverage in such areas;

• failing to maintain surfaces in the workplace as lead-free as possible.