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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Wisconsin shipyard faces nearly $1.4M in OSHA penalties for exposing workers to lead, and other hazards

OSHA finds workers exposed to lead at levels up to 20 times the permissible exposure limit

SUPERIOR, Wis. - Federal health inspectors found Fraser Shipyards Inc. overexposed workers to lead during the retrofitting of a ship's engine room. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's sampling results determined 14 workers had lead levels up to 20 times the exposure limit. The agency also found workers exposed to other heavy metals.

On July 29, 2016, OSHA proposed $1,395,000 in penalties for the Wisconsin shipyard operator. The agency cited 14 willful egregious health violations for each instance of overexposing a worker to lead. OSHA also cited five additional willful violations for failing to conduct monitoring to assess employee exposure to lead, failing to implement a lead compliance program or a respiratory protection program for lead and for failing to provide training on lead and asbestos hazards.

The agency also issued 10 serious violations to the company, and placed Fraser Shipyards in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failing to address safety and health hazards.

Interlake Steamship Company of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, contracted Fraser to modernize the Herbert C. Jackson under a $10 million contract. OSHA opened the February 2016 health inspection after receiving multiple complaints of unsafe working conditions.

"Fraser Shipyards accepted a contract with a very low profit margin and penalties for delayed completion, but could not meet the schedule without endangering its workers. This employer was unwilling to pay the necessary costs to protect employees from lead exposure," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "When companies prioritize profits and deadlines over the health and safety of their workforce, it is the workers who pay the price. Law-breaking employers must be held accountable for their unlawful behavior. "

The agency determined Fraser Shipyards' management knew of the presence of lead and asbestos throughout the vessel. Built in 1959, the ship arrived at the shipyards in December 2015 for a six-month retrofit project. The contract required the company to meet specific deadlines to get the vessel back in service for the summer iron ore shipping season.

"Fraser ignored federal regulations, its own corporate safety manuals and worker concerns," said Ken Atha, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago. "Such behavior is unacceptable. No worker should be put at risk from exposure to hazards that can cause permanent health issues to meet a contract deadline."

Overexposure to lead can lead to brain damage, as well as gastrointestinal effects, anemia and kidney disease. During its investigation, OSHA conducted personal and bulk sampling in February and March 2016, and found 14 employees were overexposed to lead. The company later conducted blood lead level testing of more than 120 additional employees that showed more than 75 percent of those tested had elevated blood lead levels.

Investigators also found Fraser failed to identify and inform employees of the presence, location and quantity of asbestos containing materials and or presumed asbestos containing material despite having a written asbestos compliance program. They also determined employees performed demolition in several areas of the ship including cutting into piping and equipment, but Fraser did not make workers aware of presence of asbestos in areas where these activities took place. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdomen.

OSHA inspectors also found Fraser exposed workers to iron oxide, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and lead hazards while performing torch-cutting and welding procedures because the company failed to provide adequate respiratory and personal protective equipment to limit their exposure to these harmful substances. Fraser also failed to conduct required medical evaluations and exposure monitoring for employees.

The agency also found that Fraser failed to:
Follow respiratory protection requirements, including fit-testing employees, properly cleaning and storing respirators, and training employees on respirator use.
Train workers on arsenic, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium hazards.
Protect workers from cumulative overexposures to heavy metals and overexposures to iron oxide.
Enroll employees exposed to lead in a medical surveillance program.
Conduct monitoring to assess employee exposure to arsenic, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium.
Provide fall protection.

View current citations here.

This is not first time federal inspectors have found workplace hazards at Fraser. OSHA cited the shipyards for exposing workers to asbestos hazards in 2000 and for multiple lead violations in 1993. Since 1972, the agency has inspected Fraser 28 times. The workers' compensation carrier for Fraser is Arch Insurance Company in Jersey City, New Jersey.

At the time of the 2016 inspection, Fraser had a seasonal workforce of about 190 employees. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers from Locals #107 in Milwaukee, #117 in Superior and #647 in Minneapolis represent many of the workers. Established in 1889, Fraser offers full shipyard services at its facility on Lake Superior. Capstan Corporation, a holding company based in Duluth, Minnesota, owns the shipyards.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independentOccupational Safety and Health Review Commission.