March 12, 2015
Manufacturer exposes welders inside tanks
to respiratory, confined space hazards
Niece Products of Kansas faces more than $60K in fines for endangering workers
FORT SCOTT, Kan. – Workers welding inside steel tanks were exposed to toxic fumes because their employer lacked an effective program to protect them, an inspection by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found. Niece Products of Kansas received 15 serious safety and health citations, including one for failing to implement a respiratory protection program for workers in confined spaces at its Fort Scott facility. Proposed penalties total $60,200.
"Welding inside a confined space, such as a tank, can expose employees to toxic fumes with immediate health impacts," said Judy Freeman, OSHA's area director in Wichita. "Employers are required and must take specific measures to protect workers in these environments."
OSHA found that Niece Products did not evaluate employee exposure to respiratory hazards associated with welding inside tanks and lacked a written respiratory protection program. Initiated by a complaint, the October 2014 inspection also found electrical hazards and a paint booth where flammable materials were stored and no sprinkler system existed.
A confined space is one large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as a holding tank, but it has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy.
Numerous additional violations were found in the corrugated metal paint booth, including using a paint shaker, which can produce sparks; electrical equipment not rated for exposure to flammable materials; improper storage of flammable materials; and failing to display no smoking signs.
The inspection also found fans and pulleys lacked adequate mechanisms to prevent workers from coming in contact with operating parts.
An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.
Based in Fort Scott, Niece Products employs about 40 people who manufacture, sell and lease water and fuel trucks, and water towers used in the construction industry. The company is owned by Niece Equipment in Irving, Texas, and employs nearly 100 workers corporate-wide.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Wichita Area Office at 316-269-6644.Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Release Number: 15-372-KAN
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The department's Reasonable Accommodation Resource Center converts departmental information and documents into alternative formats, which include Braille and large print. For alternative format requests, please contact the department at (202) 693-7828 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (federal relay).