The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited U.S. Minerals LLC of Dyer, Ind., for willfully exposing its workers to dangerously high levels of hazardous dust and not providing adequate breathing protection at its Baldwin, Ill., facility. The company, which manufactures abrasive blasting and roofing materials from slag produced at coal-fired power plants, has been issued a total of 35 health and safety citations with proposed penalties of $466,400.
"U.S. Minerals has severely jeopardized the health of its workers by exposing them to extremely high levels of dust containing silica," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Even with employees covered head to toe in dust, the company still failed to provide breathing protection and other controls."
Inhalation of the material produced at the facility can cause debilitating lung disease such as pneumoconiosis, which is characterized by symptoms including chronic cough, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. The antiquated and poorly maintained facility billowed clouds of dust that were noted by and affected residents as far as two miles away.
OSHA has issued U.S. Minerals 10 willful citations with proposed fines of $392,000 for exposing workers to levels of hazardous dust at concentrations higher than the permissible exposure limit; failure to implement a written respiratory protection program or to provide respirators to employees; and failure to implement engineering controls to reduce harmful dust exposures. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
"U.S. Minerals has demonstrated a blatant disregard for the safety and welfare of its workers," said OSHA area director Nick Walters in Peoria, Ill. "That is not acceptable, and we are committed to seeing that the workers at this facility are provided a safe and healthy workplace."
The company also has been issued 15 serious citations with proposed penalties of $37,600. Violations include failure to assess the need for adequate personal protective equipment; inadequate eye protection; unsanitary washing facilities; failure to develop procedures and practices for permit-required confined space entry; lack of a written hazard communication program; and inadequate information and training on dust containing silica. An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.
The company has received six repeat citations with fines of $34,400 for violating permit-required confined space entry rules and failure to maintain a clean and orderly workplace. OSHA issues repeat citations if an employer was previously cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility within the last three years. The company also has received four other-than-serious citations with $2,400 in penalties for lack of proper injury and illness recordkeeping.
As a result of this inspection, OSHA has opened inspections of additional U.S. Minerals facilities in Coffeen, Ill., Harvey, La., and Galveston, Texas.
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.