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OSHA Cites Air Force Sanding Operation

Thursday, November 7, 2013

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Toxic chemical exposures during paint-removal operations have once again landed an air base in trouble with federal health and safety authorities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a Notice of Violation to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, alleging one serious violation at its Corrosion Control De-Paint Building 59D.

Pressure Washing C-130
Photos: U.S. Air Force

A painter pressure-washes old paint off a C-130 Hercules at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex. The complex, at Robins AFB in Georgia, has been cited by OSHA.

The Notice was issued Oct. 31 and follows an inspection in May at a facility of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, located at Robins AFB.

The Air Logistics Complex (formerly, the Air Logistics Center) has a history of OSHA notices related to painting operations.

OSHA Notices of Violations, which apply to government agencies and facilities, are the equivalent of citations issued to private-sector employers. But Notices carry no monetary penalties.

Sanding Hazards

The Notice said base employees were exposed to excessive levels of hexavalent chromium while sanding composite areas of C-17 aircraft.

Hexavalent chromium, also known as Cr(VI), is a known human carcinogen that targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes. Cr(VI) is used as an anticorrosive agent in paints, primers and coatings; Cr(VI) compounds are also used as pigments.

Earlier this year, OSHA issued a new Fact Sheet, "Controlling Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium in Aerospace and Air Transport Painting." The document notes that workers in these operations can be exposed to excessive Cr(VI) through painting, paint removal, sanding, grinding and abrasive blasting.

OSHA inspectors found that two employees at the Robins de-paint facility were exposed to 15.7 and 23.8 times the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium while hand-sanding aircraft wings.


The OSHA Notice of Violation alleges excessive Cr(VI) exposures during sanding of the C-17, pictured on a 2007 test sortie in California.

The Notice requires corrective action by Dec. 3.

'Prompt Action'

In a statement Friday (Nov. 1), Robins AFB said that the employees in question had been wearing personal protective equipment, but it did not dispute that the Cr(VI) airborne levels were excessive.

Brig. Gen. Cedric George, commander of the Air Logistics Complex, promised swift measures to correct the hazards.

"We have taken prompt action to address this finding," said George. "Our goal regarding employee safety is to go above and beyond 'mere compliance' with OSHA requirements. This will be no different."

He added: "We will continue to pursue new and better technologies to make our workplaces as safe as possible, because we believe employees have the right to a safe and healthy work environment."

OSHA Record

The painting operation at Robins AFB is well-known to OSHA. In July 2010, January 2011 and February 2011, the base was hit with three waves of OSHA citations, alleging dozens of violations in several buildings used for sanding, priming, scuffing and painting.

F-15 conversion coating spray painting

A new OSHA Fact Sheet warns that aviation painters can be exposed to excessive levels of Cr(VI)  in a variety of tasks.

The buildings employed more than 500 members of American Federation of Government Employees 987. Most of the 2010 violations involved toxic chemical exposures in Buildings 169 and 670. The second round of violations involved Cr(V) and cadmium exposures in Buildings 59, 89 and 323.

Like his successor, Maj. Gen. Robert H. McMahon, then the WR-ALC commander, pledged at the time to "promptly address each finding" and exceed "mere compliance" with OSHA requirements.

The base pursued a variety of remediation and cleanup efforts, officials said. Some of the cases remain open, according to a check of OSHA records Wednesday (Nov. 6).


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Corrosion protection; Health and safety; Hexavalent chromium; OSHA; Power washing; Sanding and hand tool cleaning; U.S. Air Force

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (11/7/2013, 7:22 PM)

It is very dissapointing to note that money is more priority than human lives.

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