The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing $171,500 in penalties against Walter Coke Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., for exposing workers to a variety of safety violations.

The February inspection was initiated based on the 2009 Site-Specific Targeting program, which directs enforcement resources to those workplaces where the highest rates of injuries and illness have occurred.

"Prior to this inspection, the company was made aware of what needed to be addressed to protect its workers from injury, but management did not act and continues to put employees at risk," said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA's area director in Birmingham. "Managers should not wait any longer to implement OSHA standards to protect their employees."

The company is being cited with three repeat violations carrying proposed penalties of $99,000. The employer failed to complete annual inspections of the lockout/tagout procedures for energy control, and to provide proper machine guarding to protect the operator and other workers from rotating parts, flying chips and sparks. A repeat violation is issued when an employer previously was cited for the same or similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last three years.

The employer also is being cited with 27 serious safety violations carrying $72,500 in proposed penalties. These violations include fall and trip hazards, blocked fire extinguishers exposing workers to fire risks, lack of proper railings around stairs and floor openings, failing to provide an emergency shut-off for dispensing gasoline, confined space deficiencies, toxic chemical storage and poor housekeeping. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Walter Coke Inc., which produces coke for use in blast furnaces and foundries in the steel industry, has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.