The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hit a Wisconsin shipyard with $1.4 million in fines after a long history of exposing workers to asbestos, lead, and other toxins.
Business Insurance reports that during a recent investigation, OSHA found that Fraser Shipyards Inc., based in Superior, Wisconsin, had 14 health violations after exposing workers to lead levels 20 times the amount of safe limits.
The shipyard also had an additional five violations after failing to provide workers’ training on both asbestos and lead hazards. This marks yet another of the several times the shipyard placed workers in danger of asbestos exposure. In 1993, the shipyard had multiple asbestos violations, followed by similar additional violations in 2000.
The following violations were the most significant found. According to OSHA, Fraser failed to:
- Identify on-site asbestos
- Locate on-site asbestos and warn workers
- Stop workers from performing demolition work, including sawing into asbestos-containing pipes and equipment
- Conduct the required monitoring to ensure workers were safe
- Address safety and health hazards
In addition to the violations, it was determined that Fraser knew that the vessel had both lead and asbestos, and this knowledge dated back to 1959 when it arrived to the shipyard. The company also “willfully ignored” the information and continued to allow workers to be exposed to the toxins for numerous year. According to press release provided earlier this week by Ken Atha, OSHA’s Chicago regional administrator,
“Fraser ignored federal regulations, its own corporate safety manuals and worker concerns. Such behavior is unacceptable. No worker should be put at risk from exposure to hazards that can cause permanent health issues to meet a contract deadline.”
OSHA Area Director Mark Hysell followed up by stating,
“This is a significant case. It’s significant because it deal with health hazards in the workplace like lead, heavy metals, and asbestos.”
President and Chief Operating Officer of the Fraser Industries, James Farkas, responded to the press statement and the violations by denying that the company put its workers at risk. In fact, Farkas not only disagreed with OSHA, but also said that the company quickly acted to protect its employees as soon as the issues were brought up.
“We take the health and safety of our people and our community seriously. We acted to protect our people as soon as we learned of the problems. We strongly disagree with OSHA’s statement that any of the issues were caused or worsened by business or profit motivations.”
Fraser indeed stopped its work when alerted about extremely high levels of lead and other toxins that employees were being exposed to. The company also invested in state-of-the-art safety gear and equipment to help protect workers going forward, including cleaning supplies, air scrubbers, face masks, protective suits, and more. Yet, despite their current efforts to help workers, it may be too late.
Once asbestos is inhaled or ingested, it’s impossible for the body to get rid of all of its tiny, odorless fibers. While some fibers are expelled through sneezing and other bodily functions, others stick in the body, attaching to the lining of major organs, which can ultimately create scarring and tumors, and lead to life-threatening illnesses. Many Fraser workers were reportedly overexposed to asbestos, lead, and other hazardous toxins for numerous years.
Fraser is now seeking to settle with OSHA and discuss the penalties and fees.
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