A U.S. Navy maintenance facility may be forced to shut down after a series of health and safety inspections found workers there exposed to a variety of “extremely toxic materials.”
Naval Air Systems Command
Fleet Readiness Center Southwest is considered the birthplace of naval aviation. The facility repairs and maintains a variety of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued new notices of willful and serious violations to the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southwest for hazardous conditions at its facility at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, CA, where about 500 workers service Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.
The notices follow a recent surprise inspection by OSHA. That inspection, in turn, was aimed at following up on a rash of notices issued to the Navy facility last year, including many for toxic exposures. The exposures include lead paint, lead dust and cadmium, used in anti-corrosion materials.
OSHA gave the center until Sept. 26 to correct the hazards or risk a shutdown order.
2 Years, 4 Inspections, 27 Notices
The new case follows three OSHA inspections from 2011. In January 2011, the agency cited the facility for one serious violation. In May, OSHA reported 14 serious and two other-than-serious violations. After a follow-up inspection in December, OSHA noted an additional four serious and two repeat violations.
The December case is still pending.
The facility paint shop was also cited in 2008 for a serious sprinkler system violation.
An OSHA notice to a government agency is the public-sector equivalent of a citation issued to a private-sector employer. Federal agencies must comply with the same health and safety standards as private-sector employers.
Unlike private-sector enforcement, however, OSHA may not fine government agencies for violations.
The two new willful violations allege that workers were allowed to store and consume food and drinks “in areas contaminated by toxic materials such as lead, cadmium and beryllium.”
The facility was also accused of “hazards associated with the accumulation of cadmium in the workplace” and “hazards associated with dry sweeping, which may be used only when vacuuming or other methods to minimize the likelihood of cadmium dust becoming airborne have been tried and are not effective,” according to OSHA.
Willful violations are OSHA’s highest level of infraction, reserved for egregious hazards that reflect knowing disregard for the law or plain indifference to worker safety and health. It is uncommon for a single employer to receive two willful citations at the same time.
For a private-sector employer, a willful violation typically carries a fine of $70,000.
Lead, Beryllium Hazards
In addition to the willful violations, two serious violations accuse the facility of:
• Accumulation of lead dust throughout the workplace;
• Using dry sweeping to clean work areas where lead was found; and
• Failing to implement a program for beryllium hazard prevention and control.
A serious violation involves a hazard that carries a “substantial probability” of causing death or serious injury.
"Exposing workers to metals such as lead, cadmium and beryllium can result in serious illness and even fatal respiratory disease," said Jay Vicory, director of OSHA's San Diego Area Office.
"We are encouraged by the Department of the Navy's response to OSHA's intervention, and we are working cooperatively with that department to further mitigate the hazards uncovered."
Lead Paint Hazard
The Navy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But spokesman Michael Furlano told the Los Angeles Times that the facility—known as the birthplace of naval aviation—includes a hangar that is nearly 100 years old and was long ago covered with lead paint.
Furlano said the facility has not used beryllium in years, but residue is still being detected, the newspaper reported. He also said that workers had not reported any illnesses from the toxic materials.
The Navy is now removing all paint containing lead; has closed the lunchroom for repair; and has stopped dry sweeping in problem areas, Furlano told the newspaper.
New rules will require workers to remove their overalls before entering the cafeteria when it reopens, Furlano said.
Furlano said center officials were confident that they would meet the Sept. 26 deadline.