The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a new wave of citations and proposed penalties against U.S. Minerals LLC related to its facility in Harvey, LA—the agency’s third action against the company since August.
The current case accuses the Dyer, IN-based abrasives manufacturer of 30 safety violations at its Louisiana plant and proposes penalties totaling $110,400.
U.S. Minerals said Tuesday (Nov. 16) that it planned to contest the citations “so that we have an opportunity to voice what we believe are good-faith disagreements over the interpretation of safety regulations.”
The company also called the timing of the citations “surprising,” saying OSHA had not held its usual closing conference with the company to discuss the inspection findings before issuing citations.
The inspection was conducted under OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which replaced OSHA's Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) in June. The SVEP concentrates resources on inspecting employers with willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations.
OSHA spokesman Scott Allen said Tuesday that no informal conference was required or routinely conducted. OSHA notifies a company in writing when the inspection findings are complete and any penalties or violations have been determined, Allen said.
OSHA issued 20 serious citations related to the Harvey plant, including failure to protect employees from hazardous noise levels, failure to enforce the use of seat belts for employees operating fork lifts, failure to provide training on the use of fork lifts, and failure to enforce the use of safety glasses and provide machine guarding.
Eight repeat violations were cited for failing to provide adequate lockout-tagout training and develop machine specific lockout-tagout procedures, failing to protect workers from exposed electrical hazards, failing to protect propane tanks from damage, and failing to develop and implement a confined space entry program and to inform workers of the hazards of entering a confined space.
Two other-than-serious violations were cited for failing to provide sanitary washing facilities and warm or hot water in lavatories.
A serious violation is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. A repeat violation is issued when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
Company Challenges Findings
U.S. Minerals responded with this statement: “Ultimately, we disagree with the citations and penalties and believe our safety record speaks for itself; nevertheless, we are looking forward to working with OSHA to reach a prompt and agreeable resolution.”
The company added: “Notably, we have not had a lost work day accident at the Harvey, LA, location in over nine years.”
The inspection at the Louisiana plant followed two separate inspections earlier this year at U.S. Minerals’ plant in Baldwin, IL.
"This is not the first time this company has jeopardized the safety of its employees," said Dorinda Folse, OSHA's area director in Baton Rouge, LA. "OSHA's safety and health standards must be followed to prevent injuries and accidents."
On Aug. 5, the agency alleged two willful, three serious and four repeat violations at the Baldwin facility and proposed a total of $158,200 in fines for what OSHA said was failure to have proper fall protection on elevated platforms, lack of proper electrical control devices, and improper energy control training for workers.
On Sept. 9, OSHA proposed a $466,400 and issued 35 citations related to the plant for allegedly exposing workers to dangerously high levels of hazardous silica dust and failing to provide adequate breathing protection. The agency called the Baldwin plant an “antiquated and poorly maintained facility” that “billowed clouds of dust that were noted by and affected residents as far as two miles away.”
U.S. Minerals Vice President Jason Vukas took particular exception Tuesday to OSHA’s continuing allegations regarding silica dust at the Baldwin plant.
“These OSHA releases continue to be very misleading, inaccurate and damaging to our company,” Vukas said. “They reference silica and ‘hazardous dust’ as issues, yet OSHA has provided us with their own test data that shows silica (total) and respirable dust levels to be below the PEL [Permissible Exposure Limit].”
He added: “They are also not making any distinction between crystalline silica, which can cause silicosis, and amorphous silica, which our material contains. “
‘Incomplete, Overstated, Inaccurate’
U.S. Minerals is appealing the 2010 Baldwin cases and has called OSHA’s allegations about the facility “incomplete, overstated, and/or inaccurate.”
The company said that previous air monitoring at the Baldwin facility, conducted “by an independent and accredited air sampling professional, demonstrated that the levels of dust at the facility were well within OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs).” Those results were submitted to OSHA before the citations were issued, the company said.
The company also said that it provided respirators to Baldwin employees “if they choose to use them” and that it was unaware of any “injuries or illnesses sustained by its employees that can be attributed to dust exposure.”
On Tuesday, U.S. Minerals expressed concern “about the current regulatory environment, where OSHA is so aggressively pursuing a small company like U.S. Minerals. Our resources do not match up with those of the federal government, yet we have a strong commitment to workplace safety and health and an exemplary safety record.”
As a result of the Baldwin inspection, OSHA opened inspections of the company’s facilities in Coffeen, IL; Galveston, TX; and Harvey. No findings have been issued regarding the Galveston and Coffeen inspections.
OSHA cited the Baldwin facility in October 2007 for 14 serious and three other-than-serious violations with penalties totaling $15,150.