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Aerospace Firm Fined $194K for Chromium-6 Exposure

Monday, February 5, 2018

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Aircraft manufacturer Spirit Aerosystems Inc. was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in January for allegedly exposing employees performing sanding operations to a known carcinogen: hexavalent chromium.

The company is facing five serious violations and one willful, with penalties currently totaling $194,006.

Dangers of Hexavalent Chromium

According to OSHA, hexavalent chromium, also known as Cr(VI), is a toxic form of chromium that can negatively impact the health of those exposed; it has been known to cause lung cancer, as well as nasal and sinus cancer; and eye, nose and throat irritation, among other issues.

Chromium compounds offers corrosion protection when mixed with paints and primers, however.

Dan Benett, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spirit, which reported $6.8 billion in net revenues in 2016, manufactures fuselage, propulsion and wing systems for defense and private clients. The company is responsible for parts of airplanes made by Airbus, Boeing and Rolls Royce in addition to the military.

Those working in the aerospace and air transportation industries run a risk of being exposed to hazardous levels of CR(VI). The OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit is 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (as an eight-hour time-weighted average).

Exposure can occur when aircraft exteriors, parts and interiors are being painted, and during chromate-based coating removal.

Spirit Citations

OSHA investigators allege that Spirit employees were exposed to airborne concentrations of CR(VI) at rates nearly two times the permissible exposure limit. The violations, OSHA says, relate to sanding and grinding operations in the seal bay area of the company's Wichita, Kansas, facility.

The citations are as follows:

  • Monitoring revealed employee exposure to CR(VI) was over permissible limits, marked as a serious violation, with all penalties in this category each totaling $12,934;
  • Spirit did not adjust monitoring practices when there was a change in the production process, marked as serious;
  • A regulated area for CR(VI) was not demarcated from the rest of the workplace, marked as serious;
  • The employer did not ensure that employees removed all contaminated protective clothing and equipment, marked as serious;
  • Appropriate training regarding exposure was not provided, marked as serious; and
  • Employees were exposed to an airborne concentration of CR(VI) that exceeded 5 micrograms per cubic feet of air as an eight-hour time weighted average, marked as willful with a $129,336 penalty.

About Spirit

Spirit, which reported $6.8 billion in net revenues in 2016, manufactures fuselage, propulsion and wing systems for defense and private clients. The company is responsible for parts of airplanes made by Airbus, Boeing and Rolls Royce in addition to the military.

Company Response

The company has acknowledged receiving the citation, but has noted that it disputes some of the agency’s findings.

"Spirit does not believe any of its employees have been exposed to improper levels of HC," said the company. "Nonetheless, Spirit has already begun taking steps to correct many of the issues described in the citations and looks forward to collaborating with OSHA to ensure its compliance with all OSHA regulations moving forward."

The company will be seeking an informal conference with OSHA to discuss the issues and reduce both the penalties and citation classifications.

Spirit has incurred no other OSHA violations within the last five years.


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Coating Materials; Health and safety; Hexavalent chromium; Toxicity

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (2/5/2018, 8:14 AM)

It would be interesting to see if Spirit has a written Chromium Exposure plan and related risk assessment and if Supervisors, Safety personnel are qualified in dealing with Chromium and related monitoring or if they have authority to make corrective actions.

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