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The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited St. Louis, Mo.-based G.S. Robins & Company, doing business as Ro-Corp Inc., for alleged willful, repeat and serious violations of federal workplace safety standards, proposing more than $1.2 million in penalties for numerous violations relating to the handling of hazardous chemicals at the company's facility in East St. Louis.
OSHA began an inspection at the East St. Louis site after learning that employees had been admitted to several local hospitals after being contaminated with an unknown powder. The eight hospitalized individuals, OSHA later learned, were exposed to the chemical para-nitroaniline (PNA), a poison that causes methemoglobinemia, resulting in the reduction of the blood's ability to transport oxygen. The employees had been performing a chemical transfer operation at the East St. Louis worksite when chemical dust was released, settling on work surfaces and the employees.
"There are means available to safely handle deadly chemicals such as this, and those means were ignored," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Donald G. Shalhoub. "Those who ignore safe practices and OSHA regulations are inviting tragedy into the lives of their employees and their families, and this cannot be tolerated."
PNA is highly toxic and can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. All the employees exposed showed ill effects from their exposure and recovered after treatment.
As a result of its investigation, OSHA issued 21 willful citations, 20 of which were cited on a per-instance basis, relating to eight instances of failing to provide employees with the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) for transferring PNA; four instances of failing to provide training on the use of PPE and on working with hazardous chemicals; three instances of failing to provide PPE training and training on specific PNA-transfer procedures; and five instances of failing to fit-test employees using respirators.
OSHA also issued a repeat citation for failing to provide an eyewash/shower in corrosive chemicals areas, and an additional 16 serious citations for hazards associated with the transfer of PNA and other workplace practices. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Repeat violations are issued when an employer has been previously cited for the same, or a substantially similar, violation within three years of the final order date.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Peoria, Ill., or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.