OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
Exposure to potentially lethal carbon monoxide gas sickened six employees of American Rockwool, Inc., in Nolanville, Tex., prompting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today to propose penalties totaling $824,600 against the employer for alleged failure to protect the safety and health of its workers.
"Fortunately, none of the workers died. But some were close to death when they were rescued by firefighters," said Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "One of my top priorities is to ensure safe and healthy workplaces for all American workers. Stiff penalties are warranted for employers who blatantly disregard safety and health requirements."
American Rockwool, one of ten leading manufacturers of commercial and residential insulation, employs 92 persons in its manufacturing facility in Nolanville, a small town near Austin. Its headquarters are in Spring Hope, N.C., where it has a plant with 80 employees.
At Nolanville, the firm utilizes two cupola furnaces in manufacturing rock wool insulation.
On March 13, 1997, an employee was ordered to enter a cupola to level the dirt to rebuild the bottom, which must be done every 7 to 14 days. The employee became dizzy and alerted the production foreman, who was standing outside the cupola, by banging his shovel against the wall of the furnace.
The foreman lowered a ladder used to enter the cupola but the employee passed out before he could be retrieved. The foreman did not enter the cupola, but also experienced dizziness and called for other employees to retrieve the overcome victim. A total of six employees were sickened by the gases inside the cupola. The fire department rescued the last two employees remaining in the cupola.
OSHA proposed 11 alleged instance-by-instance willful violations (one for each of 11 employees who had been exposed to the gases in the cupola and baghouse) for lack of training on entering permit-required confined spaces; two alleged willful violations for failure to implement a permit-required confined space program and failure to post danger signs; and one serious violation for lack of training in hazard communication.
OSHA's standard on permit-required confined spaces for general industry outlines practices and procedures employers must follow to protect workers from the dangers of lack of oxygen or toxic atmospheres when they enter a confined space such as the furnace cupola.
"The company president had been made aware of the need to institute a confined space program and instructed his plant manager to do so. The plant manager, however, failed to require such a program," said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Gregory R. Watchman.
OSHA previously inspected the facility in February, 1997, following report of an amputation, and cited American Rockwool for 41 serious violations, including fall hazards, machine guarding and electrical violations. The company agreed to pay penalties of $53,510.
American Rockwool has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Alleged Willful Violations
|Failure to train employees on permit-required confined space program. Eleven instances at $63,000 per instance (the maximum penalty of $70,000 per instance was reduced 10 percent for size of the establishment).||$693,000|
|Failure to post signs describing a permit-required confined space.||$63,000|
|Failure to provide a written confined space program.||$63,000|
|Total Proposed Penalties for Alleged Willful Violations (Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.)||$819,000|
Alleged Serious Violation
|Failure to provide training in hazard communication. (A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.)||$5,600|
|Total of Proposed Penalties||$824,600|
|OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
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