Last October, we covered how one Tampa-based company faced nearly $320K in OSHA fines for lead exposure & failed respiratory programs, among other issues. Now, they’re back in the headlines again, facing more than just fines and penalties.
The Tampa company, a battery recycling facility, faces two separate lawsuits, involving 64 workers. In the lawsuits, workers allege inadequate ventilation, poor respirator safety, and other safety issues led to damage from high lead exposure.
The Tampa factory recycles lead from used car batteries, melts it in furnaces and creates new metal to sell to other businesses. The workers claim the recycling company put profit before safety, leading to harmful lead dust accumulation within the plant.
So, what exactly happened to lead to these accusations & lawsuits?
Let’s take a look at some of the specifics of the case, and the dangers of lead exposure in the workplace.
In September 2022, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of 42 workers, who were employed in various areas of the factory.
In it, they alleged they were exposed to lead and other harmful substances [such as cadmium, arsenic, and sulfur dioxide], which caused them to have several health problems, including cancer, kidney damage, high blood pressure, cognitive disorders, memory loss, anemia, and breathing problems.
Related: Tampa Smelter Faces $320K in OSHA Fines
Then, on Nov. 2, a second suit was filed, on behalf of 22 workers and 12 of their children.
They allege that dusty conditions inside the battery recycling facility resulted in workers carrying lead particles to their cars and into their homes, where they exposed children to harmful neurotoxins.
They also claim that the factory respirators didn’t seal properly, because they became so sweaty from the heat, according to the complaint. So much lead dust accumulated in work areas, the suit says, it “resembled piles of dirt.”
The complaint further alleges that the factory failed to provide workers with adequate medical evaluations, or fully inform them about the dangers of living with lead exposure.
This is not the first time a case of health or environmental violation has been brought against this company. In June 2021, a worker sued the company on behalf of his young son, alleging that the company’s dangerous and dusty work environment resulted in the boy being exposed to harmful neurotoxins.
Prior to the June 2021 lawsuit, they had received several warnings since March 2020 for unsafe measures of lead exposure; but failed to make changes that resulted in workers exposure to lead inhalation hazards.
Then, as mentioned earlier, in September 2021, OSHA proposed nearly $320,000 in fines, following an investigation. In January 2022, an additional $518K in fines were proposed, for environmental violations.
What to Know About Lead Exposure
Lead exposure mostly occurs in industries such as construction, manufacturing, recycling, wholesale trade, transportation, and recreation. Generally, lead exposure happens during the production, recycling, or use of rechargeable batteries, lead bullets, and radiators. Overexposure, via ingestion or inhalation, can lead to severe health issues, such as lowered blood levels, which result in decreased cognitive function. Other symptoms of lead exposure include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Memory loss
- Pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet
Get acquainted with OSHA’s lead standard
Under OSHA’s lead standard, 29 CFR 1910.1025, there is a permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, as averaged over an 8-hour period. Employers are required to use engineering controls and work practices when possible to reduce worker exposure. Additionally, employees must observe good personal hygiene practices and should be provided with protective clothing and respiratory protection in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.134.
Employees exposed to high levels of lead, or any other sort of toxic heavy metal or substance, are required to be enrolled in a medical surveillance program at no cost to the employees. Such a program focuses on screening for early diagnosis and treatment, as well as detecting and eliminating causes of the hazards or exposure.
Normally, it involves sending your team to a medical clinic for testing, which leaves them and you open to risk, whether it’s productivity loss or off-site injury. You can avoid that risk with mobile medical surveillance testing.
*** About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees. Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing. We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.