OSHA Violations and Fines at American Steel Plants Cause For Concern?

Source: AISI

In writing about metals markets, it may seem easy to forget the anthropological aspects of metal production namely the thousands of steel workers in the US and all over the world who do solid work, day in day out, no matter where metal prices are that day or what the forward curve dictates.

With that, a few instances of hazardous work environments in US steel-making have caught MetalMiner’s attention.

Wherever Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are broken, it follows that the industry mag Occupational Health and Safety is there to cover it. Back in January, OHS reported that U.S. Steel Corp. and Power Piping Co. (hired by US Steel to provide steamfitting services for their Clairton Works campus) were both fined a total of $175,000 following a July 2010 explosion. Among many others, US Steel was cited with “inadequate lockout/tagout [LOTO] to prevent the inadvertent release of energy, and a “deficient process safety management program.

In May 2011, OSHA fined steel manufacturer Republic Engineered Products Inc. a hefty $563,000 for willful and repeated infractions at its Lorain, Ohio, plant, also including inadequate LOTO procedures. According to OHS magazine, “the Lorain facility has been inspected 25 times since 1990, resulting in 76 violations in addition to those currently being cited.

And in early June 2011, OSHA fined AK Steel Corp. $203,000 for “failure, from 2007 to 2010, to record standard threshold shifts on the OSHA 300 Log when employees’ hearing tests revealed that they experienced a work-related STS and the employees’ total hearing level was 25 decibels or more above audiometric zero.

A survey by the World Steel Association uncovered 99 deaths and 9,349 lost-time injuries at steel-producing sites in 2008. In the US, the American Iron and Steel Institute, in its 2011 Public Policy Agenda, issued the following industry line regarding new legislation, including renewed OSHA regulations:

“It is critical that key OSHA regulations proposed and implemented in 2011, including I2P2 [OSHA’s Injury and Illness Program], the noise standard interpretation, and combustible dust, be based on thorough cost-benefit analysis so that unintended consequences do not occur.

The Protect America’s Workers [PAW] Act, introduced in 2009, set out to amend the 1970 OSH Act and increase monetary penalties against employers in violation of regulations, among other things, according to AISI. Although resurrected in 2010, the bill hasn’t become law. AISI, in its policy agenda, seemed to hint that the drawbacks of such regulation amendments for companies might overshadow the actual benefits that workers would be receiving.

(For more on what’s to come regarding this controversial topic, check out this story from Industry Week.)

So are the fines in these recent cases completely justified, given the gravity of each of the breaches? Or does regulation and subsequent fining play a stronger role than it should? Is there a better way to keep our steel workers safe?

If you or your company has had issues with OSHA regulations/fines, share your thoughts below!

–Taras Berezowsky

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