Federal safety experts have accused the nation's top producer of beryllium metal of safety violations that include exposing employees to high levels of dust from the potentially toxic material.
Brush Wellman Inc. can appeal the proposed $49,950 fines, negotiate the amount or pay them, said Doug Clutts, an assistant director in the OSHA Toledo office.
The lightweight metal is used in the defense, automotive and electronics industries.
Inhaling its dust can cause a fatal lung disease. About 1,200 people have contracted beryllium disease nationwide since the 1940s, according to estimates by health experts.
OSHA inspectors found 19 safety violations at the company's plant in Elmore, near Toledo, the agency said in proposing the fines Monday. It said 15 violations were serious, ranging from improper wiring to warnings that downplayed the risks of beryllium.
About 780 people work at the plant, and the company acknowledges that exposure to the metal has made dozens of them ill.
Brush Wellman spokesman Hugh Hanes said some violations had been corrected immediately and others will be fixed soon.
"None of these violations were egregious or willful. None of them were repeat violations," he said last week.
The OSHA inspection began in June, three months after a local Toledo newspaper reported that the federal government and the beryllium industry knowingly allowed workers to be overexposed to beryllium dust. OSHA said it started the inspection in response to a worker's complaint.