Workers Exposed to Chemicals, Employers Exposed to Fines: Three Recent Cases

There are many chemicals in use in modern workplaces—and there are a lot of ways workers can be exposed to them. Three employers that were cited within a 1-month period earlier this year provide instructive examples of the kinds of mistakes that lead to overexposures.

Keep reading for two cautionary tales.

Heritage Thermal Services: Failing at Hazardous Waste Operations

At Heritage Thermal Services in East Liverpool, Ohio, a service technician with 20 years of experience was pumping hazardous wastes from drums into an outdoor kiln for incineration. The 56-year-old worker became disoriented, and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. He had been overexposed to 4-chloroaniline.

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation following the incident revealed that in 2012, three workers at the same facility had been hospitalized after they were overexposed to aniline, which can cause headache, weakness, confusion, skin lesions, and cancer. As a result, OSHA cited Heritage Thermal Services for four repeat violations of the personal protective equipment (PPE) standards and one serious violation of the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard, including:

  • Failure to implement a decontamination procedure. The worker was taken to the hospital in an ambulance without having been decontaminated, increasing his own exposure and exposing the emergency medical personnel.
  • Failure to monitor work areas and evaluate the effectiveness of respirators. The worker’s respirator was not adequately protective against the concentrations of chemicals he was exposed to, and the employer failed to assess the situation and discover this.
  • Failure to provide adequate PPE. In addition to the respirator issues, the worker was wearing a chemical protective apron that was not effective against the chemicals he was exposed to.
  • Failure to ensure that employees used PPE. The employer failed to ensure that the worker wore protective equipment that was suited to the job task being performed.

The violations carry proposed penalties of $62,370.

The takeaway for employers? Don’t put workers in the wrong protective equipment, and don’t put workers exposed to hazardous chemicals in an ambulance without decontaminating them.

Budney Overhaul and Repair: Failing at Chemical-Specific Standards

Budney Overhaul and Repair, Ltd., specializes in the repair and overhaul of a wide variety of aviation engine and airframe components. OSHA inspected Budney’s Berlin, Connecticut facility in response to a complaint. The inspection uncovered multiple hazards associated with the use of hexavalent chromium, a corrosive carcinogen. Hexavalent chromium is subject to a substance-specific standard, 29 CFR 1910.1026.

Chemicals that are covered by substance-specific standards (found in 29 CFR 1910.1001 through 1910.1052) are subject to more extensive requirements than other chemicals that are subject to an OSHA permissible exposure limit.

Workers at Budney were allegedly overexposed to hexavalent chromium as a result of:

  • Failure to monitor exposure levels. Monitoring is important for any hazardous chemicals workers might be overexposed to, but hexavalent chromium is subject to specific monitoring requirements.
  • Lack of controls to reduce exposure levels. Employers are required by the hexavalent chromium standard to implement specific engineering and work practice controls. In fact, there are specific requirements for employers who paint airplane parts—something Budney probably needed to know.
  • Failure to train employees and to provide them information on hexavalent chromium hazards and safeguards. Workers must be able to demonstrate knowledge of the hexavalent chromium standard and of the purpose of the medical surveillance program.
  • Failure provide PPE, including respiratory protection and protective clothing.
  • Failure to contain contamination. Workers must change contaminated clothing at the end of the work shift to limit the spread of contamination, but Budney did not require this. In addition, workers must not be allowed to enter eating and drinking areas while wearing contaminated clothing; Budney also failed to enforce this requirement.

For these and other violations, Budney was slapped with 12 citations and $46,287 in proposed fines.

The takeaway for employers? If you’re subject to a substance-specific standard, make sure you know what it requires.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at another cautionary tale involving chemical process safety.

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