Wisconsin Company Fined by OSHA for Exposing Workers to Crystalline Silica

Northern Steel Castings Inc. has been cited for two safety and four health violations at its Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc., carbon steel foundry, including for overexposing workers to crystalline silica, a known respiratory hazard. Proposed fines total $95,480. The company has been cited by OSHA 24 times prior to this inspection, six times for overexposing workers to silica.

“Exposing workers to a known hazardous substance, such as crystalline silica, beyond OSHA’s permissible exposure limit is unacceptable," said Kim Stille, OSHA’s area director in Madison. “Employers have a responsibility to monitor workers' exposure to known hazards in their industries, and to ensure that work environments are healthful and safe.”

Breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, an incurable condition that reduces the ability of lungs to take in oxygen. OSHA’s inspection of the Wisconsin Rapids facility confirmed that workers were overexposed to crystalline silica and one willful safety violation was cited. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Northern Steel Castings also was cited for two repeat health violations for allowing workers to be overexposed to iron oxide and copper fumes in the foundry, and for exposing employees to fire hazards when welding inside plywood booths. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. The company was cited for these violations in 2006.

Additionally, three serious health violations were cited for failing to keep eating surfaces free from contamination by hexavalent chromium; failing to provide ventilation when welding, and for failing to provide adequate emergency exits. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with Stille or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA has a Safety and Health page dedicated to crystalline silica that highlights OSHA standards, the Regulatory Agenda (a list of actions being taken with regard to OSHA standards), preambles to final rules (background to final rules), directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to crystalline silica. The agency also has a Special Emphasis Program for crystalline silica.

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