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OSHA Fines Avondale Over Recordkeeping

It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has charged Avondale Industries Inc. with a proposed $180,000 fine for willfully failing to record hundreds of injuries and illnesses in what the agency called one of the largest cases of recordkeeping violations of the 1990s.

Avondale, a New Orleans shipyard, countered that its records are almost completely accurate and that the proposed fines reflect a dispute between OSHA and the company over the interpretation of Bureau of Labor Statistics guidelines.

On July 2, Avondale was cited for three willful violations, including not completing the OSHA 200 log and summary of injuries and illnesses and not providing the agency with access to employee exposure and medical records. A random sample of almost 3,500 employee medical files uncovered more than 700 cases of improper recording, according to OSHA.

"I'm so glad that Avondale finally got caught red-handed for covering up accidents," said Tom Gainey, an electrician at the shipyard and a union supporter. "We've watched co-worker after co-worker get hurt or killed out there, and we knew Avondale wasn't reporting it all. Today, everybody knows the truth."

Union officials appeared pleased with the crackdown on the company, charging Avondale with indifference to the safety of its employees and resistance to federal laws, despite receiving $3.2 billion in Navy contracts since 1993.

"In not reporting all accidents and illnesses at the shipyard, Avondale Industries has displayed its utter contempt for its workers," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.

In April, OSHA fined the company $537,000 for alleged safety and health violations. Combined with the July 2 citations, Avondale is confronting $717,000 in fines, the largest ever levied against a shipbuilder by OSHA for a single inspection.

Avondale intended to resolve the recordkeeping dispute with OSHA's senior management or appeal the fine within 15 working days to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Meanwhile, on July 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals' Fifth Circuit upheld Avondale's contest of a 1993 union election and ruled that it was "fatally flawed." The three-judge panel's decision, the AFL-CIO claims, "does nothing to address the massive, intentional violations of occupational health and safety law for which Avondale has been cited by OSHA."

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