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Abrasives Maker Settles 8 OSHA Cases

Thursday, December 13, 2012

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U.S. Minerals, one of the largest U.S. producers of coal slag products, has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle 141 federal health and safety citations stemming from egregious respiratory and other violations at its four plants in Texas, Illinois and Louisiana.

The company must also hire a full-time safety manager with sweeping powers, accept a third-party review of its Material Safety Data Sheets, and comply with other provisions of a comprehensive settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The 27-page agreement would resolve eight cases that OSHA opened in 2010 against U.S. Minerals, which manufactures Black Magnum Coal Slag Abrasive.

However, OSHA's Area Office has not yet received any of the negotiated fine that the company agreed to pay within 15 days of the document's signing on Aug. 8, agency spokesman Scott Allen said late Tuesday (Dec. 11).

Black Magnum Coal Slag Abrasive

NIOSH will review the Material Safety Data Sheets for Black Magnum Coal Slag Abrasives and other U.S. Minerals products, to determine whether their health and safety risks are appropriately described and addressed.

The company has abated all of the violations, Allen said, but the cases will remain open until the penalty has been paid.

"Eventually, if we do not receive agreed-upon penalties, we could attempt to get them through a collection agency or legal actions," Allen said by email.

U.S. Minerals, based in Dyer, IN, declined to comment on the settlement.

141 Counts, $1.5M+ Penalty

The agreement upholds nearly all of the 141 citations issued after a series of inspections throughout 2010 at U.S. Minerals' facilities in Baldwin, IL; Coffeen, IL; Galveston, TX; and Harvey, LA. However, the settlement sharply reduces the cases' fines, which originally totaled more than $1.5 million.

All of the cases involve a variety of allegedly hazardous working conditions at the plants. More than a dozen of the violations were classified as "willful," OSHA's highest level of infraction, which reflects "intentional disregard" for the law or "plain indifference" to employee safety and health.

As the cases unfolded, U.S. Minerals pledged to vigorously contest each one. The company said it stood behind its safety record at all of the facilties.

Settlement Terms

In the end, however, most of the violations were settled as originally issued.

Baldwin, IL: OSHA called the Baldwin operation “antiquated and poorly maintained.” The plant was the subject of three OSHA cases that included seven willful violations related to respiratory protection. In all, the three cases alleged 10 willful, 18 serious, 13 repeat, and four other-than-serious violations; fines originally totaled $707,600.

OSHA Respirator Signs

The citations against the Baldwin, IL, plant included seven willful violations of federal respiratory protection standards.

The settlement upholds the willful and repeat violations, while reclassifying five serious violations as other-than-serious. Negotiated fines for the Baldwin plant total $333,100.20.

Coffeen, IL: Two cases involving the Coffeen plant alleged six willful violations involving respiratory protection, air contaminants, and lockout/tagout procedures; 10 repeat violations; 21 serious; and six other-than-serious violations. Fines totaled $457,800.

The settlement reclassifies two serious violations as other-than-serious and reduces the total fines to $224,385.12.

Galveston, TX: This plant saw the biggest reductions in violations. OSHA originally issued three willful and 35 serious violations, carrying $273,000 in fines. After settlement, 16 serious violations were reclassified as "other than serious," and six were dismissed. The willful violations (for general duty lapses and for unguarded openings) remained, with the negotiated fines totaling $128,513.79.

Harvey, LA: This case was settled as originally issued, with five repeat and nine serious violations, carrying $48,600 in fines. U.S. Minerals also agreed to hire a third-party consultant to conduct a noise survey at the Harvey plant and make recommendations that the company must implement within 30 days.

The company's repeat violations all stem from a 2007 case in whch U.S. Minerals' Baldwin plant was cited for 14 serious (later reduced to 10) and three other-than-serious violations. The original $15,150 fine was settled at $8,040.

Under OSHA's policies, a repeat violation exists when an employer has been cited for the same or a similar violation at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

Safety Management Mandates

The settlement also requires U.S. Minerals to hire a full-time safety manager who must have OSHA's approval. The safety manager reports directly to the Vice President of Operations at the company's headquarters and has the authority to unilaterally suspend work to have a health or safety issue abated.

US Minerals
U.S. Minerals

U.S. Minerals' abrasives and other products are used in a wide variety of protective and marine coating projects.

The safety manager will be required to conduct random, unannounced inspections each quarter at each facility, and any hazards must be abated within 30 days.

The company is also required to establish a system for employees to register complaints, including anonymously.

The settlement also contains mandates for conducting air monitoring at the plants and establishing a comprehensive medical surveillance program. That program includes a schedule of chest x-rays based on each employee's length of service and silica exposure.

The company also must contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and request that the agency study employees for any adverse health effects caused by dust exposures at the worksite.

MSDS, Training, Auditor

In an unusual provision, the settlement also extends to the company's hazard communications. Specifically, it requires U.S. Minerals to accept a NIOSH review of its Material Safety Data Sheets for its products, including Black Magnum Coal Slag Abrasive and Coal Slag Roofing Granules.

NIOSH (or a "qualified consultant") must determine if the MSDS "contain an appropriate description of the health and physical hazards presented by these products," as well as safe-handling precautions and control measures, according to the settlement.

U.S. Minerals must also hire a consultant to develop a comprehensive training program that addresses airborne dust hazards; proper use of respirators, hearing protection, and other personal protective equipment; fall hazards; lockout/tagout requirements; permit-required confined spaces; and safe forklift operation.

All employees must be trained under that program within six months.

U.S. Minerals must also hire an expert "consultant/auditor" to help the company develop and revise its health and safety programs and to audit the plants for compliance.

Finally, the company agreed to accept OSHA inspectors without a warrant and to provide documents to the agency without subpoenas upon demand.


Tagged categories: Abrasives; Certifications and standards; Health and safety; Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS); NIOSH; OSHA; Respirators; Respiratory Protection Standard; Silica

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