Haphazardly throwing money away

March 4, 2009
By: Vicki Bell

Several e-newsletters arrive in my inbox each week; I imagine the same is true for you. I don't always have time to read all of them as thoroughly as I'd like, but I do open them and scan to see if they contain something I need to make the time to read.

The latest Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) e-newsletter featured two items that drew my attention and made me think about just how much a company that doesn't follow safe work practices is jeopardizing not only its workers' wellbeing, but also its viability—particularly in this economic environment in which every dollar counts.

Could your company afford six-figure OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fines? If you have it, wouldn"t that money be better spent on new equipment to make your company more competitive? Or used to pay down debt? Or & how about this & making sure the work environment is safe?

Perhaps an Alabama automotive parts supplier and a New York sheet metal fabricator should have considered those questions before OSHA inspectors found them in violation of safety standards and levied whopping penalties.

OSHA is proposing $192,350 in penalties after an inspection at NTN-Bower Corp.'s manufacturing plant in Hamilton, Ala., revealed 36 safety and health violations. The company, which makes roller bearings, is being cited with one willful and 31 serious violations. Advanced Technology Services Inc., which provides maintenance support at the facility, is receiving four citations for serious safety violations. OSHA is proposing $172,350 in penalties for NTN-Bower and an additional $20,000 in penalties for Advanced Technology Services.

"The large number of violations revealed by OSHA's inspection of this facility reflects management's failure to properly train its employees to work safely and ensure that company safety policies are followed consistently," said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA's area director in Birmingham, Ala. the area office that conducted the inspection.

NTN-Bower's one willful citation, which alone carries a $63,000 penalty, is for not enforcing the company's lockout/tagout procedures to prevent accidental start-up of machinery. The agency defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. The 31 serious violations address inadequacies in training employees, deficiencies in clothing and equipment needed for fighting fires, inadequate and missing machine guards, inadequate labeling of chemicals, and electrical deficiencies.

An even heftier fine has been proposed for sheet metal and structural steel fabricator Blackstone Business Enterprises of Jamestown, N.Y., for 18 alleged willful and serious violations for failing to provide required safeguards for temporary employees who were hired to remove asbestos-containing insulation from steam pipes at the plant. The company now faces $273,000 in proposed fines.

"The sizable fines proposed here reflect the fact that this company knew several of these critical safeguards were necessary yet chose not to provide them," said Arthur Dube, OSHA's area director in Buffalo, N.Y. "Inhalation of asbestos fibers by workers may lead to lung disease and other disorders. That is why it is essential that effective protective measures be in place and in use whenever necessary. One means of identifying and preventing hazards such as these is to develop and maintain an effective safety and health management system."

OSHA said Blackstone did not perform air monitoring to determine the level of asbestos exposure nor did it provide workers with respirators, protective clothing, and asbestos training. These conditions resulted in four willful citations, carrying $224,000 in proposed fines.

Additionally, the company was issued 14 serious citations, with $49,000 in fines, for failing to determine the presence, location, and quantity of asbestos-containing material; establish a regulated work area; properly clean and dispose of asbestos-containing material and contaminated clothing; inform employees and tenants of the asbestos removal; label asbestos-containing insulation and trash bags; and have the work overseen by a competent person. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

Think these proposed fines are steep? OSHA issued $1.2 million in penalties in a case involving 20 per-instance citations for exposing workers to a hazardous chemical.

Look around your operation. Are you adhering to safety guidelines in all areas? Are workers protected to the letter of the law? If not, your company may find itself on the receiving end of a serious monetary penalty, which, when you think about it, really isn't much compared to a serious injury, illness, or loss of life caused by unsafe working conditions.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209