OSHA regulations require companies to provide free medical surveillance for employees with symptoms of excessive hexavalent chromium chemical exposure. A recent fine issued by the agency sends a message: When OSHA says free, it means at no cost to the employees.
OSHA has issued $79,300 in fines to Tenneco Automotive Operating Co.’s Hartwell, GA, manufacturing plant. The agency opened the investigation in response to a complaint about hazards.
Some of the 16 violations (14 serious) involve failure to protect employees from exposure to hexavalent chromium, aka chromium VI.
OSHA says Tenneco didn’t provide free medical surveillance for employees showing symptoms related to chromium VI exposure. Specifically, employees were told to use vacation time for the medical appointments, and they weren’t reimbursed for travel.
The other serious violations include failure to:
- ensure employees working with and around chromium VI removed their contaminated clothing and showered before exiting the facility after a shift
- train and educate employees about working with chromium VI
- clean up chromium VI spills and leaks
- keep the chemical out of employee eating, drinking and break areas
- provide adequate PPE for employees, and
- enforce respirator rules and maintain equipment.
Tenneco also faces an other-than-serious violation for improper recordkeeping in the OSHA log.
Workers who breathe chromium VI at their jobs for many years may be at increased risk of developing lung cancer. Breathing high levels of the chemical can also irritate or damage the nose, throat and lungs. Irritation or damage to the eyes and skin can occur after contact with chromium VI in high concentrations or for a prolonged period of time.
This is the third time this Tenneco plant has been fined by OSHA in 15 months. OSHA issued 19 citations against the facility in April 2011 and three citations in December 2011. These cases are still pending.
Tenneco has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to decide whether to appeal.