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OSHA Cites Northern Steel Castings for Respiratory Hazards

Dec. 6, 2011
Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., foundry tagged for exposing workers to respiratory hazards

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued six citations to Northern Steel Castings Inc., Wisconsin Rapids, WI, following an inspection on May 18. The agency indicated the inspection was prompted by a complaint alleging workers had been overexposed to crystalline silica.

OSHA reported the citations carry proposed fines of $95,480. Northern Steel Castings was allowed 15 business days to pay the fine, to seek an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or to contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Northern Steel Castings produces carbon and low-alloy steel castings for general industrial markets. It maintains its own pattern shop, and it also offers heat treating for finished castings.

Crystalline silica becomes airborne as a result of workers chipping, cutting, drilling or grinding objects that contain silica. “Breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, an incurable condition that reduces the ability of lungs to take in oxygen,” OSHA declared. It cited Northern Steel for one “willful” violation of federal workplace safety rules, meaning that the plant’s management intentionally violated or showed indifference to the employee safety and health.

"Exposing workers to a known hazardous substance, such as crystalline silica, beyond OSHA's permissible exposure limit is unacceptable," stated OSHA area director Kim Stille. "Employers have a responsibility to monitor workers' exposure to known hazards in their industries, and to ensure that work environments are healthful and safe."

Northern Steel Castings also earned two citations for repeat health violations, for allowing workers to be overexposed to iron oxide and copper fumes, and for exposing employees to fire hazards when welding inside plywood booths. Repeat violations are issued when employers have been cited previously for the same or a similar violation within the past five years. The foundry was cited for these violations in 2006.

Three serious health violations were cited because Northern Steel Castings failed to keep eating surfaces free from contamination by hexavalent chromium; failing to provide ventilation when welding; and for failing to provide adequate emergency exits. Serious violations identify situations that offer a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to workers, about which the employer knew or should have known.