Enforcement and Inspection, Injuries and Illness

Review Commission Downgrades, Vacates Citations

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission August 26 downgraded a willful citation issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to serious for a Trenton, New Jersey, manufacturer’s failure to administer annual audiograms. The commissioners also vacated a machine guarding citation, ruling that the agency failed to demonstrate employee exposure.

OSHA opened an inspection in May 2016 of Home Rubber Company, LP, a small manufacturer of specialty industrial rubber products located in Trenton, after an employee was injured while operating a mill.

On May 6, 2016, a Home Rubber employee was feeding raw material into the steel rollers of a mill when his hand was pulled into the machine’s nip point. He was able to free his hand by reversing the rollers. The employee was taken to a hospital, where four of his fingers were surgically amputated. While the injured employee was at the hospital, two maintenance employees cleaned up blood from the incident using rags and bleach.

During a May 16 inspection, the agency’s compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) noticed that she needed to shout when speaking to the company’s owner and returned to the facility to monitor the noise levels that mill operators were being exposed to during a workday.

The CSHO’s noise monitoring showed that operators of 2 mills had 8-hour time-weighted average exposure levels of 91.8 decibels (dBA) and 89.5 dBA. OSHA’s occupational noise exposure standard requires annual audiograms for employees exposed to noise levels equal to or exceeding an 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 dBA.

Home Rubber did not dispute the violation but insisted it was not willful.

Home Rubber had been informed of OSHA’s audiogram requirements in 1999, following a noise audit voluntarily requested by the company’s safety director at the time. After the noise audit, the company adopted a hearing protection program that included annual audiograms.

The company failed to perform annual testing after the safety director left the company in 2006. According to the company’s owner, the company’s testing program simply “fell to the wayside” and “was essentially just forgotten about” after the safety director left.

The commissioners decided that OSHA failed to provide evidence of a willful state of mind and that the length of time passed since Home Rubber last complied with its program also failed to show the employer’s noncompliance was “more than negligence.”

However, the commissioners rejected the employer’s argument that the violation was other than serious. They decided the potential for serious physical harm justified characterizing the audiogram violation as serious.

The commissioners vacated the agency’s citation for a machine guarding violation. OSHA alleged that a rotating shaft in one of the company’s mills had unguarded bolts that extended beyond the flange of a coupling and that it exposed employees to the risk of their clothing becoming caught on the bolts and the employees’ being pulled into the mill’s rotating parts. The commissioners decided there was an absence of actual exposure. They ruled that OSHA failed to establish that employees have been or are reasonably likely to enter the zone of danger posed by the rotating bolts.

The commissioners affirmed a citation for a violation of the bloodborne pathogens standard. The standard requires employers to offer employees hepatitis B vaccination within 10 days following an exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material. The commission found that at least one of the maintenance employees who cleaned up blood in the facility was not offered vaccination in a timely manner.