OSHA Fines Company $126,000 for its Handling of Chemical Spill

Had a hot-dip galvanizing company in Oklahoma followed the letter of the law, it likely could have avoided sending 18 employees to the hospital after a chemical spill, according to OSHA.

OSHA has issued citations to Valmont Coatings-Oklahoma Galvanizing in Claremore, Okla., and proposed penalties totaling $126,000, for alleged safety and health violations that contributed to or followed a chemical spill that sent 18 employees to the hospital.

"If the employer would have taken the appropriate precautions to protect its employees, it is possible that this incident could have been avoided," U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said.

Valmont Coatings-Oklahoma Galvanizing is owned by Valmont Industries Inc., headquartered in Omaha, Neb. The company employs more than 3,000 workers, with about 100 located in Claremore.

A company spokesperson said the 18 employees were sent to a local hospital for observation only and that none of them were injured or ill due to the chemical spill.

Following an inspection that began Aug. 31, OSHA cited the company for one alleged willful and eight alleged serious violations for exposing employees to sulfuric acid during cleanup of a spill from the rupture of a storage tank.

The alleged willful violation was issued for failing to provide personal protective equipment to employees who responded to the acid spill. OSHA issues a willful citation when an employer either knew that a condition constituted a violation or was aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to correct it.

The alleged serious citations included:

  • Failing to ensure that the premises were free from hazardous conditions such as exposure to concentrated sulfuric acid or being struck by debris caused by the leakage and/or rupture of a storage tank operating under pressure
  • Failing to develop and implement an emergency response plan
  • Failing to assure the senior emergency response official took charge of the situation at the site when the spill occurred
  • Failing to train employees in emergency response operations.

OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

A company spokesperson said Valmont Industries likely will challenge OSHA's citations -- either through an informal conference with the regional office or in front of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to comply or challenge them.

"We had procedures in place and we followed them," said Jeffrey Laudin, manager of investor relations for Valmont Industries. "We were commended by local emergency personnel for how we followed them."

Valmont Industries, according to OSHA, has had numerous inspections in past years, one of which resulted in proposed penalties of $20,000 when an employee died in Valley, Neb., after being crushed by a stamper machine in July 1996. Violations at that facility involved machine guarding and control of hazardous energy.

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