OSHA Fines GM $160,000 for Recordkeeping, Safety Violations

OSHA issued two willful citations to GM Powertrain's Massena, N.Y. plant for failing to record 98 work-related injuries and illnesses, and cited the plant for six serious safety violations, but a GM spokesperson appeared to dismiss the importance of the enforcement action, saying OSHA found "no significant safety violations."

In addition to $148,000 in penalties for alleged willful recordkeeping violations from 2002 through 2004, such as failing to record work-related hearing losses, the plant received serious citations for a variety of safety hazards, including an obstructed exit route, inadequate guarding of moving machine parts, and the failure to assess the need for personal protective equipment for workers.

The agency issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm are likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. OSHA defines willful violations as those that are committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

"The primary issues raised by OSHA in the Massena citation concern record-keeping and not employee safety," commented Kyle Johnson, GM Powertrain's director of communications, in a written statement. "As part of its investigation, OSHA conducted a comprehensive safety inspection at Massena and found no significant safety violations."

OSHA countered that accurate recordkeeping is essential for protecting workers since it provides the opportunity for timely identification and correction of conditions that can harm workers.

"The significant penalty of $160,000 in this case demonstrates our commitment to protecting the health and safety of American workers," commented U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

According to Johnson, the facility corrected the violations OSHA identified that were unrelated to recordkeeping during or soon after the inspection.

In the past, OSHA has cited companies separately for each instance of failing to record injuries and illnesses on the OSHA log, an approach that can lead to far larger penalties. An OSHA spokesperson explained why the agency chose not to use its "egregious" instance-by-instance approach in this case. "We reviewed it, weighed all the facts, and it was close but it just didn't rise to the level of instance by instance."

One of the willful citations alleges that from 2003 to 2004, GM Powertrain failed to record 17 cases of work-related hearing loss. The remaining 81 unrecorded cases are lumped together in the second willful citation, and most of these are injuries resulting from repetitive motion and material handling work activities from 2002 to 2004.

Johnson characterized these cases as "employee aches and pains that OSHA has mistakenly attributed to the workplace without considering the nature of the job being performed, which mainly involves handling Stryofoam molds weighing a few grams.

"GM believes its safety program has become a model for manufacturing by emphasizing safety and working jointly with the UAW [United Auto Workers] and our other unions," Johnson added.

This is the second time this year OSHA has cited the GM Powertrain plant for serious violations. A January OSHA inspection uncovered three serious violations of the Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (1910.178). According to the inspection report, a fourth serious citation fell under OSHA's General Duty Clause, as the agency alleged "workers were exposed to the hazard of being struck by molten aluminum."

Under terms of a February informal settlement between GM and OSHA the company agreed to pay a $4,000 fine for these violations.

Both inspections were conducted out of OSHA's area office in Syracuse, N.Y. Diane Brayden, the area office director, said the more recent citations were issued Sept. 30, giving the company until Oct. 25 to determine whether to settle or contest the enforcement action.

"I'm negotiating with them and working toward a settlement on the safety violations," said Brayden. "The recordkeeping issues are in a different case file and we haven't discussed this with them yet."

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