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McWane in Hot Water for Alleged Safety Violations

Birmingham, Ala.-based cast-iron pipe manufacturer McWane Inc. is facing $332,700 in proposed OSHA fines after being cited for 38 alleged safety and health hazards at the company's Birmingham foundry.

In August, OSHA conducted comprehensive safety and health inspections at the facility under its site-specific targeting program.

As a result of the inspections, OSHA issued 10 repeat citations, with proposed penalties of $242,700, against the company. Alleged repeat violations included exposing workers to:

  • Silica above permissible levels;
  • "Struck-by" injuries from improperly blocked and stacked pipes and from a ladle without safety latches that carried hot molten metal;
  • Unguarded machinery;
  • Electrical hazards; and
  • Falls through unguarded floor openings and platforms.

OSHA also issued 28 serious citations, with proposed penalties of $90,000. Violations included allegedly exposing workers to:

  • Noise and dust above permissible levels;
  • Electrical hazards from damaged equipment;
  • Improperly operated forklifts;
  • Inadequate lockout-tagout procedures; and
  • A front-end loader that had been modified contrary to the manufacturer's recommendation.

In a statement, a McWane spokesperson said the company fully cooperated with OSHA during the agency's investigation and corrected most violations during the inspection.

"While we did not necessarily agree with all aspects of the result, we are appreciative of the agency's input on areas of improvement and look forward to working with the agency to resolve these issues," the spokesperson said.

Guilty Pleas for Environmental Crimes

In a related development, McWane and former Vice President and General Manager Charles Matlock pleaded guilty Feb. 8 in a federal court to environmental crimes in connection with the operation of Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co., a Utah-based subsidiary of McWane.

McWane pleaded guilty to two counts of submitting a document to the state of Utah containing falsified emission test results. Matlock pleaded guilty to one count of rendering inaccurate a testing method required by the Clean Air Act.

According to the indictment, McWane, Matlock and Vice President of Environmental Affairs Charles "Barry" Robison conspired to melt pig iron instead of shredded scrap metal in the plant's cupola in order to improperly lower the amount of emissions from the cupola and pass the September 2000 compliance stack test.

In 2001 and 2002, McWane submitted Emission Inventory documents that were false in that they were based on the inaccurate September 2000 compliance stack test.

McWane was ordered to pay a $3 million fine the largest criminal environmental fine in the state of Utah and to serve a 3-year period of probation. Sentencing for Matlock is scheduled for May 2.

Charges were dismissed against Robison in return for his agreement not to appeal his conviction in another McWane case in Birmingham.

EPA: Case Should Send a 'Clear Message'

"With this case, we are sending a clear message that corporate leaders like McWane and Charles Matlock … cannot evade Clean Air Act requirements with criminal behavior," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Corporations and their senior officials, such as Matlock, who willfully disregard the law and put public health and the environment at risk, should understand that their crimes will be vigorously pursued."

The case marks the fourth conviction of a McWane company for environmental or safety violations in the past year.

In September, Union Foundry Co. an Anniston, Ala.-based subsidiary of McWane was sentenced to pay $4.25 million in criminal fines and community service and serve probation for 3 years. Union Foundry pleaded guilty to two counts related to its illegal treatment of hazardous waste and worker safety violations that resulted in the death of an employee, Reginald Elston.

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