A wind turbine blade manufacturer with a history of federal safety violations, including some related to a 2010 death, is now accused of having employees work in a confined space filled with excessive levels of styrene.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued 11 serious, repeat and willful citations and proposed $136,500 in penalties against LM Wind Power Blades Inc., of Grand Forks, ND.
LM, formerly known as LM Glasfiber, is already contesting three OSHA cases, including the one involving the fatality, at the same plant. OSHA records also show four closed cases with LM since 2007, including three at the Grand Forks facility.
“We take this very seriously and will continue to collaborate with authorities to ensure we maintain a safe working environment for all our employees,” an LM spokeswoman said in an email Thursday (April 28). “At this point, however, it is premature to say what our response will be.”
Chemical Exposures, Confined Space
The new allegations stem from an October 2010 inspection. Over two days, the agency said, the company allowed employees to remain at work inside the confines of a giant wind-turbine blade amid exposures to styrene that reached 2,195 parts per million (ppm), triggering air-quality alarms.
LM Wind Power
|LM Wind Power is the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbine blades. Here, a worker in the company’s China plant walks between two blades.|
Styrene is a hazardous chemical used in fiberglass production; OSHA’s short-term exposure limit is 600 ppm; for an eight-hour shift, it is about 100 ppm, an OSHA spokesman said.
Supervisors allowed the work to continue for hours, despite air-quality readings showing excessive exposures, and did not evacuate the confined space as required—willful violations, OSHA said, that demonstrate “intentional disregard” for the law or “plain indifference” to employee safety and health. Those two citations carry $70,000 in penalties.
“The employer is well aware of OSHA requirements and has continued a pattern of failing to comply with them,” said Tom Deutscher, OSHA's area office director in Bismarck. “Despite having been cited for similar infractions in the past, the company continues to place workers in harm's way by allowing hazards to exist.”
OSHA said LM workers did not have proper protective equipment for working with styrene. “Severe chemical burns to the body were reported to the employer,” the agency said.
Repeat, Serious Violations
In addition to the willful violations, OSHA issued five repeat violations for alleged failure to:
- Provide adequate respirators “for conditions immediately dangerous to life or health”;
- “Purge or ventilate” the atmospheric hazards within a confined space;
- Prevent employee overexposure to styrene levels exceeding the time, weighted average and ceilings limits; and
Four serious violations also were issued for allegedly failing: to:
- Implement engineering controls to ventilate the confined space.
- Provide appropriate personal protective equipment;
- Conduct effective confined space monitoring;
- Retrain employees when required; and
A repeat violation exists when an employer has been cited for the same or a similar violation within five years. Serious violations reflect a “substantial probability” of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
- Maintain an accurate count of entrants in permit-required confined spaces.
The company has 15 business days to accept or contest the violations.
LM Wind Power, founded in 1940 as a wood furniture company in Denmark, is the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbine blades, with 13 production facilities on three continents. In April 2010, the company changed its name from LM Glasfiber.
The North Dakota facility opened in 1999 and employs several hundred people.
LM has a history with OSHA, with violations and allegations that include spray finishing hazards, combustible materials, fall protection and respiratory issues, noise and dust.
These cases have been closed:
- In 2008, LM paid $17,400 in fines (reduced from $29,000) for four serious and one repeat violation related to styrene exposure, lack of respiratory protection and other violations at the Grand Forks facility.
- In April 2010, the company paid $1,500 (reduced from $6,000) for two serious violations (reduced from four) and one other-than-serious violation at the same facility.
- Earlier this month, the company paid $2,500 to settle one other-than-serious violation (reduced from serious) at the plant.
The company also is currently contesting several open cases involving the Grand Forks plant:
- The company was also cited in 2009 for violations at its plant in McBain, MI.
- Last July, a 42-year-old plant worker was fatally crushed between two pieces of equipment. Witnesses said Joseph Francis Schaff, a father of two young sons, was working about 10 to 12 feet up on a scissor lift when he was struck from behind by a separate lift system that ran along rails fixed to the top of a concrete wall.
LM is contesting three serious and one willful violation and $92,000 in fines issued in that case.
- The company is also contesting two citations issued in October 2008. That fine has already been reduced to $850 from $2,975, and one serious violation has been reduced to other-than-serious.
- Finally, the company is appealing two serious citations (reduced from three) and a $3,000 fine (reduced from $7,875) issued in April 2007 for spray finishing hazards and other issues.