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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently proposed fines totaling $110,458 on a Wisconsin steel pipe manufacturer for alleged safety and health violations. OSHA investigators found evidence that employees were exposed to excessive levels of hexavalent chromium, which is known to cause cancer, and were vulnerable to struck-by injuries.

The company, Felker Brothers Corp., is a leading manufacturer of stainless steel piping products and fabricated piping systems. They serve industries throughout the United States and worldwide, and have production facilities in both Wisconsin and Kentucky.

Employee Exposed to Higher-then-Permissible Levels of Carcinogen

According to an OSHA report, OSHA received a complaint about the Marshfield facility in Wisconsin and went out to investigate. They found that one grinder operator had been exposed to hexavalent chromium at levels 1.78 percent higher than the permissible exposure limit.

Hexavalent chromium, also called “chromium-6,” was the chemical made famous in the film “Erin Brockovich.” It is a toxic form of the element chromium, man-made and widely used in many industries including stainless steel production, electroplating, leather tanning, textile manufacturing, and wood preservation. It helps increase the durability of products, as it resists corrosion and contributes to hardness.

Employees may be exposed to chromium-6 by inhaling it, ingesting it through food and/or water, or by direct contact with the skin. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers hexavalent chromium to be a well-established carcinogen associated with lung, nasal, and sinus cancer.

“Welding and hot work on stainless steel, high chrome alloys, and chrome-coated metal is one of the most common ways workers are exposed to hexavalent chromium,” said OSHA Area Director Chad Greenwood. “Exposure can cause respiratory tract, skin, and eye irritation. Companies must monitor their facilities to ensure workplace health and safety procedures are effective.”

OSHA estimates that 558,000 workers are potentially exposed to chromium-6 in the U.S.

OSHA Requires Non-Moving Equipment be Anchored to the Floor

The OSHA investigation of the Marshfield facility also revealed a lack of machine safety procedures. The company had reported one worker who was hospitalized after he was struck by a piece of machinery. He suffered a shattered jaw and a concussion. OSHA determined that the company:

  • failed to adequately anchor equipment to the floor,
  • were using damaged cranes and altered forklifts,
  • failed to inspect jacks,
  • and allowed combustible materials to be stored within 35 feet of welding and hot work.

Machinery that does not move is supposed to be anchored to the floor, according to OSHA guidelines, to make sure that it can’t move during operation and injure an employee. Companies are supposed to anchor these securely so they can’t be tipped or shifted, and regularly check to be sure the machines are still anchored securely.

Felker Brothers had 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings. OSHA found in total 13 serious safety and health violations at the Marshfield facility.

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