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Painter Tops Lead Cases with $287k Fine

Friday, February 6, 2015

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After a dozen federal health and safety cases in 10 years, including a 14th citation for lead hazards, authorities are sending a Chicago painting contractor a six-figure message.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has unloaded citations for four willful, one serious and two repeated safety violations on Era Valdivia Contractors Inc. The citations carry fines totaling $287,440.

Steve Conro /

The company is accused of allowing workers to blast lead coatings from the Francisco Avenue Bridge on Blue Island without respiratory protection or protective clothing.

The company did not respond Thursday (Feb. 5) to a request for comment.

'Conscious Decision'

OSHA inspectors say the contractor allowed employees to abrasive-blast lead-based paint off the steel of the 46-year-old Francisco Avenue Bridge on Blue Island without providing any protective clothing or respirators.

And the company knew the paint contained lead, according to OSHA.

“OSHA’s investigation found that Era Valdivia Contractors had performed tests that indicated dangerous lead exposure in the early stages of the project," said Kathy Webb, OSHA’s area director in Calumet City.

"The company made a conscious decision not to protect its workers.”

'Take-Home Lead'

That decision led to lead exposures that were 20 times the Permissible Exposure Limit—and to the four willful violations, each carrying a $70,000 fine.

CA Department of Public Health

"Take-home lead" travels home on the clothing, hair and skin of workers who do not change and shower before leaving a lead job. Such violations drew six-figure fines for Era Valdivia Contractors.

Employees were not told of their lead exposure, leading to the serious citation, and were not given a clean change area and showers and hand-washing facilities to prevent them from carrying the lead home on their clothing, skin and hair, said OSHA.

So-called "take-home lead" is considered particularly dangerous for pregnant women and small children.

The repeat lead violations involve failure to have a lead compliance program and failure to post lead warning signs for workers blasting steel coated with lead-based paint.

“Era Valdivia Contractors failed to follow the law  and its company policy, putting everyone at risk,” said Webb.

OSHA History

Willful violations are OSHA's highest level of infraction, reserved for intentional and egregious violations that show "plain indifference to employee safety and health."

Era Valdivia has been cited by OSHA again and again, as far back as 1995, for similar lead violations on other projects, including bridge projects, according to the OSHA citations.

Era Valdivia Contractors

Era Valdivia Contractors of Chicago calls itself "one of the premiere providers of protective coating services in the Midwest," promising "high-quality service at a reasonable price."

Its lengthy OSHA record includes 13 citations just for lead construction hazards, and dozens of varied violations from 11 cases just since 2006.

The biggest was a lead case involving a bridge job in November 2009. That case originated as eight serious and two willful violations carrying $130,300 in fines. Upon appeal, one willful violation was reduced to repeated, and the entire fine was slashed to $32,500.

About the Company

Era Valdivia was founded in 1987 by Jose Valdivia, according to the company's website.

The company bills itself as "one of the premiere providers of protective coating services in the Midwest" and promises "high-quality service at a reasonable price." In addition to industrial coating, lining and abrasive blasting, the company advertises industrial lead abatement services.

Its industrial and commercial portfolio includes work on a variety of well-known Chicago-area structures, including O'Hare Airport, Chicago Transit Authority rail lines, energy plants, schools and highways.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Bridges; Enforcement; Health & Safety; Lead paint abatement; North America; OSHA; Painting Contractors; Personal protective equipment; Protective Coatings; Respiratory Protection Standard

Comment from Tony Rangus, (2/6/2015, 10:05 AM)

$130,300 down to $32,500? Can anyone enlighten me on how a reduction is determined. Maybe OSHA racks up all the money they spent on the investigation, paperwork, attorney fees etc. and then use that number as the reduced fine? Stranger things have happened. I wonder how many years will pass before one of the workers children shows evidence of lead toxicity issues and sues that heartless Valdivia and his company?

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (2/6/2015, 10:45 PM)

I worked for government in the Chicagoland area, and ERA Valdivia has done this before. Why haven't they been permanently black-listed from competing in the public sector???????

Comment from M. Halliwell, (2/9/2015, 11:03 AM)

By the going rate, the fine will be reduced to ~$70,000 and it will be business as usual for Valdivia. Gee...20 years of citations and there is no mention of SVEP and no way to shut them down. Once, maybe twice I can forgive an oversight...this looks like it is systemic and NOT being dealt with by the company. I'd love to see the fine stick around over $200k, SVEP for the company and them being blacklisted from public jobs for at least 5 years. Maybe that'd start to get the message through...but I doubt it. I suspect these are the kind of folks who, if the fine were big enough, would take down their shingle, burn it, paint up another one and be right back in the game.

Comment from Mark Puckett, (2/11/2015, 4:01 PM)

guess its easy to be low bidder if you dont perform any safety and health regulations...makes you really wonder where all the waste went to also? Maybe EPA fines to follow?

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