During the past two years, two prisoners on a work-release program suffered permanent lung damage while other employees at the Fiberdome Inc.’s Lake Mills fiberglass manufacturing plant in Lake Mills, WI, plant were exposed to harmful levels of chemicals, dust and noise, according to reports released by OSHA.
OSHA conducted two inspections at Fiberdome in 2013, during which inspectors stated workers were not trained in or offered proper equipment to mitigate exposure to chemicals, including dust, noise and styrene, a chemical used to make polystyrene plastics, rubber and resins, at the fiberglass panel manufacturer.
"Workers at this manufacturing plant continue to be exposed to chemical hazards that can cause severe respiratory illness," said Kim Stille, OSHA area director in Madison, following citations issued in September, 2013. "Companies must be aware of the hazards that exist in their facilities and take all possible precautions to minimize the risk of illness."
The effects of styrene
Styrene can cause health effects such as headache, fatigue, confusion, difficulty in concentrating, a feeling of intoxication and respiratory problems, according to OSHA.
Initially, OSHA cited Fiberdome for 13 alleged workplace violations and sought fines of $63,360. But settlements in late September call for the company to pay $18,162 in fines for nine violations and to undertake various improvements, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Owner twarted a surprise inspection
The State Journal said OSHA inspected the plant in March 2013 and again in October 2013. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that the latter inspection came after a federal judge ordered owner Rick Wollin to allow OSHA inspectors into the plant after Wollin had thwarted a surprise inspection.
The Daily Jefferson County (WI) Union reported this fall that Fiberdome Inc. had agreed to limit employee exposure to styrene, pay a $2,000 penalty and accept a general duty clause citation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The agreement resolved all outstanding citations issued to Fiberdome in September 2013 by OSHA.
Company agrees to adopt industry limit
At the time, OSHA Madison-area director Kim Stille said, “We are pleased that Fiberdome agreed to adopt the industry recognized 50-ppm (parts per million) limit and believe that all responsible and safety conscious employers who use styrene should consider doing the same thing. OSHA believes that employers have the responsibility to further limit exposure to chemicals that can harm employees even if the level of such exposure is below OSHA permissible exposure limits.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Fiberdome abated the general duty citation by following the styrene industry’s 1996 agreement to voluntarily adopt an employee exposure limit of 50 ppm over an eight-hour time weighted average. Fiberdome further agreed that if it cannot achieve compliance with a voluntary exposure limit through engineering and/or administrative controls, it will implement an effective respiratory protection program, including the use of appropriate respirators.
OSHA cited Fiberdome for a general duty clause violation in September 2013 for exposing a worker to styrene levels that were measured at 1.3 times the industry agreed-upon level, even though the airborne concentration of the chemical didn’t violate OSHA’s permissible exposure limit of 100 parts per million. OSHA initiated the inspection after receiving a referral relating to workers being ill.
Among the incidents referred to in the OSHA reports was one first reported by the State Journal in October 2013. A prison inmate had been hospitalized after inhaling toxic dust at the plant while on a supervised work-release job.
Daily Jefferson County Union
Fort Atkinson, WI
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