A Florida aluminum coating and blasting operation has closed its doors in the face of 37 new federal safety and health citations and a fine of nearly $140,000.
Dave Fritz, owner of Fritz Aluminum Services, of Eustis, TN, said Wednesday (March 21) that he closed his six-year-old business about 10 days ago, more than a week after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its citations.
|The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has been urging OSHA for years to issue a combustible dust standard for general industry. Combustible dust has been cited in multiple disastrous explosions, including the 2008 blast that killed 14 workers at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth, GA.|
“I built everything from the ground up,” said Fritz, who still owns Fritz Fence, which he has run for more than 30 years.
Walking Away from OSHA?
OSHA inspected Fritz Aluminum for the first time in September after a complaint. Inspectors found so many hazards on that one inspection—from cracked fluorescent lighting amid six-inch accumulations of combustible dust, to lack of protection for blasters—that OSHA placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
The program targets so-called “recalcitrant” employers and High Emphasis Hazards, including combustible dust.
Fritz said Wednesday that he had not heard directly from OSHA since the inspection and that he had not received the citations, which were issued Feb. 28. He said he had read about the violations and fines online.
OSHA spokesman Mike Wald, however, said that Fritz had received the citations and that he could not walk away from them without a response.
Wald noted that employers who receive OSHA citations have 15 business days to respond to them. Lack of a response by that deadline is considered acceptance of the violations and fines as issued, Wald said.
Because Fritz has not appealed the case, Wald said, “the citations have now become the final order,” Wald . The company is responsible for the fines, in the amounts proposed, and abating the violations.”
6 Inches of Combustible Dust
The safety citations include two willful violations for extreme concentrations of powder coating dust. According to the citations, inspectors found accumulations that were more than 10 times the minimum explosive concentration (MEC) as indicated on the Material Safety Data Sheets.
DuPont Sustainable Solutions
|OSHA said combustible dust at Fritz Aluminum was piled up to six inches deep on rafters, in paint booths and even above dropped ceilings. This photo is taken from a DuPont training video on combustible dust.|
Powder coating dust up to six inches deep also covered the paint booths, rafters, floors, outside the spray booths, and above and on the dropped ceiling, with explosion severity rated at up to 1.12, OSHA documents show. Any rating of 0.5 or higher is considered an “appreciable explosion hazard.”
The health violations include a willful violation for continued use of a severely damaged respirator by an employee who was performing abrasive blasting.
The willful violations also allege failure to:
• Provide workers with an abrasive blasting suit, gloves or apron during blasting operations;
• Replace missing and powder-clogged filters in the powder coating booth; and
• Implement a housekeeping program and provide proper ventilation to keep combustible dust accumulations at a minimal level.
A willful violation is one committed with “intentional knowing or voluntary disregard” for the law’s requirements, or with “plain indifference” to worker safety and health. Each of the willful violations carries a $14,000 fine.
“The level of disregard for workers’ safety demonstrated by this employer is irresponsible,” said Les Grove, OSHA’s area director in Tampa. “Although the employer knows the fire and explosion hazards associated with the accumulation of combustible dust, a choice was made to do nothing about it.”
“It should not take a fire or explosion to implement necessary safety measures to protect employees.”
OSHA also issued 28 citations for a wide variety of serious violations that include:
• Cracked, non-explosion-proof lighting covered in combustible residue in spray booths;
• A respirator hood left outside under broken bags of sand;
• Lack of sprinklers in spray booths and lack of a carbon monoxide alarm;
• Ungrounded metal parts and components in the hand-spraying area;
• Painters spraying without ventilation;
• Workers cleaning combustible dust from booths with compressed air;
• Employees smoking and dropping cigarette butts in the spray booth;
• Lack of machine guarding;
• Lack of appropriate air filters in the abrasive blasting area;
• Exposed wiring in the spray booths;
• Lack of hand and eye protection for employees pouring and spraying acids and other chemicals;
• Blasting employees exposed to nearly 25 times the permissible exposure limit for silica;
• Lack of available MSDS;
• Lack of training for workers exposed to silica dust, powder coating dust and acids; and
• Lack of a written hazard communication program.
A serious violation reflects a substantial probability of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Six other-than-serious violations allege failure to:
• Maintain sanitary conditions in the powder booth, welding area and break room bathrooms;
• Have forklift operators complete refresher training in the last three years;
• Certify the training of forklift drivers;
• Remove defective or unsafe powered industrial trucks from service;
• Appropriately store oxygen and acetylene compressed gas cylinders; and
• Properly label circuit breaker panels.
Fritz said he knew about the dust problem. “Dust gets on top of the ceiling,” he said. He also said his lights “didn’t suit OSHA.”
He said he had replaced PVC piping used to transport 130 psi compressed air (a rupture hazard, according to OSHA) with steel, as required.
He said that the blasting equipment he bought six years ago did not come with a filter and he did not know he needed one.
He also said he does not read and does not like to read.