Embattled U.S. Minerals LLC has been hit with a fifth wave of federal health and safety citations, leaving the abrasives maker to answer to a total of 140 citations and $1.4 million in proposed penalties for operations at its four plants.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Tuesday (Dec. 7) that it had issued 28 health and safety citations and proposed $396,000 in penalties for alleged violations at U.S. Minerals’ facility in Coffeen, IL.
The case was OSHA’s second against the Dyer, IN-based company in a week and the fifth since August.
In a statement Wednesday (Dec. 8), U.S. Minerals said: “Many of OSHA’s allegations and statements are incomplete, overstated and/or inaccurate.
“U.S Minerals has stated its concern in the past regarding the current regulatory environment, where OSHA is not only aggressively pursuing a small company like U.S. Minerals, but is then going out of its way to further damage the company and its reputation with inaccurate and misleading press releases.”
The company said that it disagreed with the allegations “and believe our safety record speaks for itself.”
The company is vigorously contesting all of the citations and penalties against it.
‘Severely Jeopardized’ Workers
“U.S. Minerals has severely jeopardized the health and safety of its workers by exposing them to extremely high levels of hazardous dust and other dangers,” said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA Administrator.
“This is the fourth U.S. Minerals facility where very serious violations were cited in the past three months, clearly indicating these problems are widespread and systemic. This blatant disregard of workers’ health and safety is not acceptable.”
In Coffeen, the company is accused of “willfully exposing its workers to dangerously high levels of hazardous dust, and not providing adequate breathing protection and training” to workers.
Inhalation of the hazardous dust material produced at the facility can cause debilitating lung disease such as pneumoconiosis, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, OSHA says.
The company faces six willful citations with proposed fines of $336,000 for allegedly:
• Exposing workers to levels of hazardous dust at concentrations higher than the permissible exposure limit;
• Failing to implement a written respiratory protection program or to mandate employees wear respirators;
• Failing to implement engineering controls to reduce harmful dust exposures; and
• Failing to develop and utilize energy control procedures.
“U.S. Minerals continually has failed to come into compliance on safety issues such as providing adequate breathing protection,” said OSHA Area Director Thomas Bielema in Fairview Heights, IL.
U.S. Minerals took strong exception to the allegations, saying it provided employees “with all necessary personal protective equipment, including respiratory protection. These respirators provide a level of protection that ensures respiratory safety at dust exposure levels well beyond those that have been identified in these allegations.”
The company received seven repeat citations with fines of $34,200 for allegedly violating permit-required confined-space entry rules and for allegedly failing to provide fall protection, required training on energy procedures, or guards on mechanical powered equipment.
The company was issued 10 serious citations with proposed penalties of $24,000. Violations alleged include failure to assess the need for adequate personal protective equipment; inadequate eye protection; failure to develop procedures and practices for permit-required confined space entry; lack of a written hazard communication program; inadequate information and training on dust containing silica; and failure to cover floor holes and enclose electrical boxes.
U.S. Minerals noted Wednesday that the allegations include “failure to develop a permit required confined space entry program.”
“However,” it added, “OSHA agreed with the company in 2008 that such a program was not required.
The company also received five other-than-serious citations with $1,800 in penalties for lack of proper injury and illness recordkeeping.
OSHA has been pursuing U.S. Minerals for months under the agency’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program, which began in the spring.
The previous cases involve:
• 38 citations and $273,000 in proposed penalties issued Dec. 2 in connection with U.S. Minerals’ facility in Galveston, TX.
• 30 citations and proposed fines totaling $110,400 issued in November regarding U.S. Minerals’ plant in Harvey, LA.
• 35 citations and a $466,400 proposed fine in September related to the company’s facility in Baldwin, IL. OSHA called the plant “antiquated and poorly maintained.”
• Nine citations and a proposed $158,200 fine proposed in August stemming from a second inspection at the Baldwin plant.
SVEP focuses on what OSHA calls recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe; industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; employee exposure to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all egregious enforcement actions.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.