The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a total of $48,500 in fines against Tonawanda Coke Corporation for 14 alleged serious violations of workplace health and safety standards at the company's River Road plant in Tonawanda, N.Y., which produces foundry coke, a coal by-product. The citations address deficiencies involving the plant's respiratory protection program, use of personal protective equipment, industrial hygiene and coke oven operations.

"Ensuring the health and safety of workers in coke oven operations makes it essential that effective and proper safeguards be in place and in use at all times in this type of work environment," said Arthur Dube, OSHA's area director in Buffalo. "Safeguards encompass respiratory protection, personal protective equipment, correct work practices and engineering controls, the primary means of minimizing workers exposure to airborne contaminants."

Specifically, the plant failed to adequately train workers on respirator selection, use, storage and maintenance; ensure the use of protective clothing by employees; and implement work-specific procedures in the plant's respiratory protection program.

In addition, the plant did not conduct all required monitoring and perform all required medical evaluations for workers exposed to coke oven emissions; allowed coke spillage to be shoveled into a heated oven; did not supply positive pressure filtered air to all work cabs; failed to maintain a machine in good working order; did not label containers of coke-contaminated clothing; and allowed food and beverages to be consumed in an area with visible accumulations of coke oven emissions. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

"One means of preventing hazards is for employers to establish effective comprehensive workplace safety and health programs that involve their employees in proactively evaluating, identifying and eliminating hazards," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York.

Tonawanda Coke Corporation has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with the OSHA area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.