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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited an Ohio steel plant for six repeat and 19 serious safety and health violations. These involve failing to protect workers from machine hazards, and failing to limit exposure to silica, a common mineral that can create serious health problems.

OSHA has proposed over $600,000 in fines and penalties on the company, noting that it was the company’s responsibility to train workers in proper safety procedures.

Amsted Rail Cited for Violations of Worker Safety Standards

On January 3, 2017, a 60-year-old worker was doing maintenance work on a core baker machine at Griffin Wheel, a company that makes railroad wheels and is a subsidiary of Amsted Rail Company Inc. The machine apparently moved unexpectedly, and the man’s leg was caught and crushed inside the machine.

The incident triggered an OSHA investigation of Amsted Rail, which builds everything from wheels, axles, and bearings to brake systems and more. Investigators found that the company was not following standard safety procedures, and failed to lock out machinery to prevent movement during servicing.

OSHA conducted a second investigation on February 22, 2010, and found that workers were exposed to higher-than-permissible amounts of silica at the same Groveport plant. Because of these and other violations, OSHA proposed over $610,000 in fines, which is the largest OSHA penalty in Ohio so far in 2017, and the highest since January 2015.

Company Placed on OSHA’s “Severe Violator” Program

Because of the fact that many of these violations are “repeat,” or have occurred before, OSHA has placed Amsted on their “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” This program was instituted in 2010, with the intent of focusing enforcement efforts on “recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees through willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations of the OSH Act.”

OSHA will concentrate their resources on mandatory future inspections and will target high-emphasis hazards at the company in the hopes of encouraging improved safety. Companies can be removed from the program only after they have met certain criteria showing that they are making strides in protecting their workers.

OSHA Requires Companies to Limit Worker Exposure to Silica Dust

Crystalline silica is a common industrial material found in the earth’s crust, but the dust is hazardous when inhaled. The tiny particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, potentially causing serious and fatal lung diseases, including silicosis and lung cancer, as well as kidney disease.

Workers can be exposed to this dangerous dust when performing common tasks like cutting, drilling, sawing, and crushing materials like concrete, rock, and brick products. OSHA proposed a new rule requiring engineering controls to keep workers from breathing silica dust back in 2013 and is now working with companies to enforce the final rule.

The new rule:

  • reduces the permissible exposure limit to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift,
  • requires employers to use things like water or ventilation to limit worker exposure to the dust, and to provide respirators when needed,
  • requires employers to provide medical exams to monitor highly exposed workers.

The standards in the final rule took effect on June 23, 2016, and industries have one to five years to comply. OSHA delayed enforcement of the rule in the construction industry until September 23, 2017; in the general and maritime industries until June 23, 2018; and in the hydraulic fracturing until June 23, 2018.

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