From lead on the ice machine, to cadmium in the sanding booths, to open-sided work 13 feet high in the paint area, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia is facing a new slew of violations from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The OSHA citations, which the air base had expected, followed a list of 27 violations issued against WR-ALC a week earlier for several buildings used for sanding, priming, scuffing and painting aircraft. That wave followed 13 violations issued in May in connection with the same operations. About 500 people, members of American Federation of Government Employees 987, work in the buildings.
The latest citations, issued Jan. 26, comprise seven serious safety violations and two serious health violations.
Most of the violations detail multiple examples or instances. For example, one violation for lead exposure includes wipe samples showing excessive levels in 12 locations in four buildings: from employee lockers, to a shelf in paint removal, to work tables in the grinding booth, to an ice machine and refrigerator in a break room.
Like the previous citations, the new wave sets abatement deadlines and requires documentation of completed abatement in the form of receipts or other written records, videos or photographs.
Beyond ‘Mere Compliance’
Maj. Gen. Robert H. McMahon, WR-ALC commander, has pledged to "promptly address each finding" and exceed "mere compliance" with OSHA requirements.
"We will take care of our people," he said.
McMahon has said that corrections or mitigation plans are underway or complete for the May 2010 citations, but the case remains open, indicating that OSHA has not yet signed off on those violations.
Union representatives have told PaintSquare News in an interview that they receive no medical monitoring and undergo only hearing tests. This week, McMahon strongly disputed those allegations.
At a press conference Wednesday (Feb. 2), McMahon detailed a medical regimen that includes “a comprehensive multisystem physical examination” each year focusing on “skin, nasal mucosa, lungs, and the ability to wear personal protective equipment.” Employees who work in the painting and paint removal operations also receive baseline pulmonary function testing, he said, and all employees undergo annual vision and hearing exams.
Each annual exam includes a “comprehensive questionnaire” with space to register “any health issues, exposures or injuries of concern. These concerns are evaluated by one of our Occupational Medicine physicians and managed appropriately,” McMahon said.
Union officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday (Feb. 3).
The latest safety citations allege, according to OSHA records:
• Four instances of lack of guardrails for employees working at heights. In one area, OSHA said, workers in the paint pharmacy and de-paint areas were working without fall protection on an open-sided, 35-foot-long platform about 13 feet above the floor.
• Lack of lockout-tagout procedures for can and pail crusher equipment in the paint shop area, exposing employees to caught-in hazards.
• Missing or inadequate guards on grinding and sanding equipment with speeds up to 816 rpms;
• Lack of PPE on workers conducting compressed-air cleaning; and
• Exposure to electrical hazards of more than 200 volts where employees in the pre-paint shop were conducting pressure washing.
The health citations detail 12 instances of excessive lead, 19 instances of excessive Chromium (VI), and 31 samples of excessive cadmium on a variety of surfaces in work and break areas in four painting and paint-removal buildings.
The safety violations must be corrected by Feb. 21, OSHA said; the health violations, by March 14.
According to OSHA records, the violations alleged issued earlier in January included:
• Improperly constructed and secured scaffolding;
• Numerous instances of underreporting or missing reports of employee illnesses and injuries;
• Fall hazards;
• Cross-contamination throughout rooms and buildings due to a shortage of lockers and lack of changing facilities;
• Lack of first-aid supplies near dipping or coating operations;
• Widespread confined-space deficiencies, including lack of training; and
• Excessive exposures throughout the buildings to cadmium, beryllium, lead and Chromium (VI). In addition, employees were not aware of exposure standards, hazards, or practices, OSHA said.
The facility has been using Chromium (VI), cadmium and lead corrosion inhibitors on aircraft since 1942.
Injury and Illness Allegations
The union reps said many employees had become sick and injured from working in the buildings. They reported a variety of health problems, from asthma to cancer to severe skin irritations.
McMahon said this week that there were two falls resulting in injuries in the buildings in 2009. He said three employees had reported illnesses from sanding and grinding in 2010, and one illness was reported from grinding this year.
McMahon has vowed to shut down the painting operation if it cannot be made safe enough. “I want to keep it here,” he says. “But if all else fails, that’s the solution I’ve got to look to.”