After facing a proposed $1.4 million in federal worker-safety fines related to lead exposure, Wisconsin-based Fraser Shipyards has settled with authorities for $700,000 in penalties, along with increased safety measures.
Fraser, based in Superior, WI, was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in July for 29 violations related to the alleged exposure of workers refurbishing a freighter to lead, other heavy metals and asbestos. As part of the settlement with OSHA, announced Thursday (Jan. 5), the firm does not admit wrongdoing.
Freighter Refurbish Job Halted
Fraser oversaw the re-powering of the Herbert C. Jackson, a 690-foot Great Lakes freighter, a $10 million project that began in January 2016. In March, the job was halted when an OSHA inspection uncovered lead paint; remediation was called for, and Fraser offered lead level screenings for employees on the project.
According to local news reports at the time, some employees said their blood lead levels tested at 42 to 46 micrograms/dL, considered by the Centers for Disease Control to be “elevated” levels, but under the 50 micrograms/dL level at which OSHA requires workers to be removed from a lead-exposure situation.
After elevated lead levels were found in a small sample of employees, further testing found that more than 75 percent of 120 employees who were tested had elevated blood lead levels. According to OSHA, some workers were exposed to lead at up to 20 times permissible levels.
In May, a worker filed suit against the shipyard, alleging exposure to lead and other toxins during work inside the 57-year-old vessel. That suit is still pending, with a trial date reportedly set in 2018.
In July, OSHA announced that it had issued 29 violations to Fraser Shipyards, related to lead exposure as well as exposure of workers to asbestos, iron oxide, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and cadmium hazards. The violations came with $1,395,000 in proposed penalties, and Fraser was placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
In its citation, OSHA alleged that Fraser management knew of the presence of lead and asbestos in the Herbert C. Jackson, but were on a tight deadline to refurbish the ship before summer, and cut corners to stay on time and on budget.
“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,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health.
Lead overexposure, according to OSHA, is associated with brain damage, as well as gastrointestinal effects, anemia and kidney disease. Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The company contested the violations, resulting in the reduction of the fines by almost half, to $700,000. Fraser will also implement a new worker safety plan, and will be subject to regular OSHA inspections. The informal conference between Fraser and OSHA also reportedly included representatives of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which represents Fraser workers. The settlement is final as of Jan. 3, according to an OSHA spokesperson.
“We appreciate the opportunity to work with OSHA and respect their oversight as well as our joint commitment to the health and safety of all workers at Fraser,” James Farkas, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Industries, told the Duluth News Tribune.
According to the News Tribune, the Herbert C. Jackson passed its sea trials in September, about three months behind its original schedule, and has since gone back into service.