Workers Compensation Lawyer Discusses $1.395 Million In Proposed Penalties Due To Worker Lead Exposure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) usually releases information about proposed penalties for safety violations only in the region where the offending company is located. However, on August 1, 2016, OSHA issued a national press release announcing a July 29 decision to propose $1.395 million in penalties for safety violations by a shipyard operator in Superior, Wisconsin.

Fraser Shipyards Inc. had taken on a $10 million retrofitting of the Herbert C. Jackson, a 690-foot vessel with a cargo capacity of 24,300 tons. The ship, constructed in 1959, arrived at the shipyard in December 2015 to undergo a six-month retrofit. The shipyard faced critical deadlines designed to get the ship back on the water for the peak iron ore shipping season.

Health Inspectors Arrive

Following a number of complaints of unsafe working conditions, OSHA sent health inspectors to the facility in February 2016. The inspectors discovered that workers suffered substantial lead exposure during retro-fitting work in the ship’s engine room. The federal agency identified 14 workers with lead levels up to 20 times the exposure limit.

As a result, OSHA issued 14 willful egregious health violations for overexposure to lead. Five additional willful violations were cited for a failure to monitor worker lead exposure, failure to implement a lead compliance program and/or a respiratory protection program for lead and for failing to train workers regarding lead hazards.

OSHA also placed the shipyard in the its Severe Violator Enforcement Program for the company’s failure to address health and safety hazards.

Many of the workers are represented by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers from Local 647 in Minneapolis, Local 117 in Superior and Local 107 in Milwaukee.

Impact of Lead on Health

In its press release, OSHA stated that overexposure to lead is linked to kidney disease, anemia, gastrointestinal problems and brain damage. In addition to the 14 worker is overexposed to lead approximately 75 percent of the 120 additional workers tested had elevated levels of lead in their blood.

OSHA says the shipyard also exposed its workers to asbestos, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and iron oxide. The shipyard has been inspected a total of 28 times since 1972. In 2000, OSHA cited the shipyard for asbestos exposure. In 1993, the company received citations for multiple lead violations.

OSHA Official Comments

An official with OSHA asserted that a low-profit-margin contract and substantial penalties for delays motivated the company to skirt certain safety requirements, thereby increasing worker risks. The official accused the shipyard of prioritizing profits and deadlines over the safety and health of workers.

According to WDSM, the shipyard’s president said the company strongly disagreed with OSHA’s assertion that the profit motive was linked to any of the alleged safety violations. He further asserted the company acted to protect its workers as soon as it learned of the problems.

15 Days to Respond

Per OSHA policy, the notice of proposed penalties gives the company 15 business days to either comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA area director or to contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

State workers compensation laws provide for payments to employees exposed to unsafe or toxic levels of chemicals. The calculation of benefits is often complex, taking into account a number variables, like average weekly wage (AWW) and the possibility of partial or full disability. Employers are only responsible to employees under the workers comp statutes, but, in some cases, third-party negligent conduct may trigger personal injury litigation as well.

To better understand the various laws and regulations that apply when you or a family member is hurt on the job, please arrange for a free consultation with a workers compensation lawyer. We fight hard to get our clients all compensation the are entitled to under all applicable statutes. To learn more, please contact us.