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Worker with a respirator.

Labor Dept. Sues Foundry Under Whistleblower Law

Sept. 15, 2023
OSHA investigators claim Tyler Pipe violated the rights of a former cupola furnace operator by denying him the use of a respirator to protect against smoke and fumes.

Cast-iron pipe manufacturer Tyler Pipe Co. is the target of a suit filed in August by the U.S. Dept. of Labor and alleging the foundry fired an employee in retaliation for his request for a respirator to protect himself from smoke and fumes.  The government claims the company violated federal whistleblower protections by terminating the former employee in October 2022, after that request.

Tyler Pipe, in Tyler, TX, is a McWane Inc. subsidiary that produces cast iron soil pipe products. The Labor Dept.’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation there after the incident, and OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program investigators in Dallas determined the company violated federal whistleblower protections held by the employee, whose right to request personal protective equipment is protected.

The suit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to order Tyler Pipe to reimburse the former employee for lost wages and other benefits.

"Every worker is empowered with the right to speak up if they are concerned about their safety or that of others," stated OSHA’s Dallas area regional administrator Eric S. Harbin. "Rather than fulfilling their responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace, Tyler Pipe Company terminated an employee who raised safety concerns, and that is unacceptable."

According to the suit, the employee had been assigned as a cupola furnace operator at the foundry and asked during the hiring process to be provided with a respirator. “Tyler Pipe fit-tested complainant for a respirator but did not subsequently provide him with one,” according to the filing.

The suit continues: “During his first week, complainant started coughing up black phlegm, his throat and tongue would burn, and he began having breathing problems due to excessive smoke and fumes from the cupola.” He notified a supervisor and asked again for a respirator, but none was provided.

Finally, the former employee himself acquired a respirator from the plant dispensary and subsequently wore it while working at the cupola.

Once the safety supervisor saw the former employee wearing the respirator – the suit details – he “immediately became very upset; he rudely admonished the complainant in front of his co-workers for wearing the respirator and demanded that he take it off immediately.”

Although the former employee told the safety supervisor he did not feel safe doing his job without a respirator he was called to a meeting and told he would not be allowed to wear it. That confrontation caused the former employee to begin to record the meeting.

The federal suit charges that the former employee was told using the respirator was not allowed because of the cost.

The suit goes on to allege that, following that meeting, the complainant was reassigned to shovel gravel for the remainder of his shift. A few days later, his employment was terminated.

"The U.S. Department of Labor will enforce all laws to the extent of our power to ensure all protections afforded to employees are fully exercised," stated Regional Solicitor of Labor John Rainwater in Dallas.