Failure to Abate Leads to Bigger Fines

A Hoboken, N.J., manufacturer of steel doors and frames has learned that it does not pay to break an agreement with OSHA.

A Hoboken, N.J., manufacturer of steel doors and frames has learned that it does not pay to break an agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

B.R.S. Products contested citations from a May 1997 investigation and reached a settlement with OSHA in January 1999 to correct numerous workplace hazards. OSHA claims the company failed to carry out those promises and proposes fines of $530,500.

"B.R.S. Products claimed last March that it had corrected safety and health problems OSHA found nearly two years earlier, including unguarded machinery that could injure or kill employees," Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman said. "However, our follow-up inspection in April showed many of these hazards still existed."

On Oct. 20, OSHA issued to the company 14 failure-to-abate notices, which can carry penalties for every day a company does not take corrective action. Six of the 14 were deemed egregious and were assessed penalties for 40 days. OSHA alleges the company knowingly failed to abate:

  • Unguarded press brakes and unguarded points of operation on power presses (one employee lost a fingertip in an accident);
  • Excessive noise in the workplace that can cause deafness;
  • Lack of a lockout/tagout program to protect against sudden startups of machines while they were being serviced;
  • No training of employees in the use of fire extinguishers; lack of vermin control in the workplace (severe accumulations of pigeon droppings); and
  • Unprotected spray painting.

Nineteen additional OSHA citations issued to B.R.S. Products, which has about 90 workers, carry proposed penalties of $142,900. They allege two willful safety violations, 10 serious safety and health violations, five repeat violations and two other-than-serious violations. Proposed penalties, including those for notices of failure to abate, total $673,400.

The principals of B.R.S. have a long history of OSHA violations dating to another company, Bilt-Rite Steel Buck Corp. in Westbury, N.Y. OSHA inspected that company 11 times from 1974 to 1994. The agency found violations during seven inspections and issued 55 citations. That firm, which made the same products as B.R.S. and was managed by the same principals, went out of business in 1996.

In May 1997, responding to a formal complaint about hazardous conditions, OSHA began a safety inspection of B.R.S. Products and issued multiple citations with $72,000 in total penalties Sept. 24, 1997. As a result of the company's agreement with OSHA, the severity of the citations was downgraded and the penalties reduced to $32,000. The agreement, which became a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on March 11, 1999, included a statement from the company that all hazards had been corrected.

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