OSHA Fines Massachusetts Contractor $60,000 for Silica Hazards

A Wilmington, Mass., contractor's failure to safeguard workers against potentially deadly silica hazards during brick repointing work at St. John's Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass., has resulted in $60,000 in proposed fines from OSHA.

On Aug. 17, 2004, employees of NER Construction Management Inc. were repointing Xavier Hall, a grinding operation that produced and engulfed them in clouds of silica-containing brick dust, according to the agency. OSHA standards require that effective engineering controls, such as wet cutting saws, vacuum grinders or other types of local exhaust ventilation first be used to reduce dust levels below permissible exposure limits. No controls were in place or in use at the time, the agency says.

Though the exposed employees wore respirators, those devices alone were insufficient protection. The silica hazard was aggravated by the company's failure to medically evaluate all workers to determine if they could safely use respirators and by its failure to perform fit-testing to ensure that the respirators had a proper seal.

Silica is a human lung carcinogen. Prolonged inhalation can lead to silicosis, a disabling and potentially fatal scarring of the lungs that reduces their ability to take in oxygen.

As a result of prior OSHA inspections, NER knew what safeguards were required, yet did not use them, according to the agency. Thus, OSHA has issued one willful citation to the company, with $55,000 in proposed penalties, for the lack of engineering controls and resulting silica overexposures and for not medically evaluating workers for their fitness to wear respirators. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

NER faces an additional $5,000 fine for a serious citation for not performing respirator fit testing. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial possibility that death or serious physical harm can result to an employee.

NER has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply or contest the citations.

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