Safety and OSHA News

Workers exposed to dangerous lead levels: $1.4M OSHA fine

OSHA found 14 workers at this company had lead levels up to 20 times the maximum exposure limit. That led to 14 separate violations, one for each worker, helping to bring this company’s total fine to $1,395,000. 

Fraser Shipyards Inc. of Superior, WI, overexposed workers to lead during the retrofitting of a ship’s engine room.

OSHA used its “willful egregiousviolation policy to fine Fraser $70,000 for each employee affected. Fraser also received an additional five willful violations, including citations for failing to:

  • conduct monitoring to assess employee exposure to lead
  • implement a lead compliance program or a respiratory protection program for lead, and
  • provide training on lead and asbestos hazards.

The company later conducted blood lead level testing of more than 120 employees that showed more than 75% of them had elevated blood lead levels.

Worker complaints triggered the OSHA inspection.

OSHA also issued 10 serious violations. According to the agency, Fraser also failed to:

  • train workers on arsenic, cadmium and hexavalent chromium hazards
  • protect workers from cumulative overexposures to heavy metals and iron oxide, and
  • provide fall protection.

Fraser is now in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement program which requires follow-up inspections.

OSHA chief David Michaels says this was a case of putting deadlines before employee safety. “Fraser Shipyards accepted a contract with a very low profit margin and penalties for delayed completion, but could not meet the schedule without endangering its workers,” Michaels said.

The agency says Fraser management knew about lead and asbestos present throughout the Herbert C. Jackson, owned by Interlake Steamship Company of Middleburg Heights, OH. The ship was built in 1959.

The contract between Fraser and Interlake required specific deadlines to be met to get the ship back in service for the summer iron ore shipping season, according to OSHA.

It’d be difficult for the company to say it’s not familiar with OSHA standards and hazards that need to be monitored. The company has been inspected by OSHA 28 times since 1972. Inspectors found asbestos hazards in a 2000 inspection and multiple lead violations in 1993. Fraser has been in business since 1890.

“We acted to protect our people as soon as we learned of the problems,” said a statement from Fraser. “We strongly disagree with OSHA’s statement that any of the issues were caused or worsened by business or profit motivations.”

Fraser has requested a settlement conference with OSHA. That’s one of the options available to companies that receive OSHA violations. Companies can also comply or contest the violations within 15 days of receiving them to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The total fines of almost $1.4 million sound big enough. Here’s something to consider: If the fines were issued under the new OSHA maximums that go into effect this month, they could have been 78% higher, or almost $2.5 million.

Related lawsuit

In addition to the OSHA fines, Fraser faces a lawsuit.

James Holder, a welder, has filed a federal lawsuit against Fraser, claiming he was exposed to critically high and toxic levels of lead.

Tests shows lead levels in Holder’s blood were more than seven times the level recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as being harmful.

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  1. […] Shipyards of Superior had been fined $1.395 million after OSHA found the workers had lead levels up to 20 times the allowed exposure limit. The […]

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