The Tale of the Tape
On Oct. 6, 2015, a safety manager for a nationally recognized network of independent chemical reconditioning plants was leading a team of safety consultants through one of the refurbishing plants in Milwaukee’s north side. Concerned about the health and safety conditions of the plant, the safety manager brought in a team of advisers to help the company minimize insurance liabilities. He knew that the unknown mixture of chemicals that coated each and every 55-gallon steel drum that entered the facility was a serious danger.
What he didn’t know at the time was that one of the safety consultants was recording the conversation. The tape caught a menacing warning from the manager himself as they passed by a collection container: “One of these days … that mother is going to blow up. And when that happens, everybody is going to be sorry.”
Severe injuries and health issues had been happening. One worker at the Milwaukee plant was burned so badly on his chest that he couldn’t button his shirt, yet was told to keep working. At another plant, a worker had to pull metal shavings out of his eye with a magnet. One worker lost his sense of smell.
Unknown chemicals were routinely mixed together, which lead to chemical and heat burns, exploding barrels, difficulties breathing, and other health issues.
Whistleblower Leads OSHA to Specific Problems
Conditions seem to be the worse at a St. Francis plant, where willful health and safety violations and cover-ups were a daily routine. Workers were even given the answers to safety tests ahead of time.
Following the tips from the whistleblower, OSHA inspected and tested these plants. St. Francis was cited for two highly regulated dangerous chemicals: formaldehyde and mercury. Air testing found formaldehyde levels were at .48 parts per million, which is more than five times the permissible level.
The second major violation at St. Francis was a lack of training for Spanish-speaking workers. This included failing to train these workers on the dangers of mercury, which can attack the nervous system in high enough concentrations.
Workers were not the only ones affected by these hazardous chemicals. The company is also facing 20 air pollution and hazardous waste violations from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency and is required to install pollution-control equipment.
Overall, the company is facing fines and penalties of more than $128,000.
The Importance of Medical Surveillance Testing
When precautions are not taken to protect workers from dangerous workplace hazards, employers are taking major risks. Medical surveillance testing and health & safety plans are required — See Standards Here — throughout various industries and, in the case of a cover up such as this, the fines per violation can rise up to $129,336.
If employees do not feel safe at work, they have the right to become whistleblowers, and they are protected from workplace retaliation, such as firing, disciplining, and/or reducing pay or hours.
If you’re an employer, you can keep your work site compliant with Worksite Medical. Our mobile medical unit can come directly to the job site to test your employees for any health issues that may be going unnoticed. We also have workers’ compensation clinics — Learn More Here — located in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Maryland that offer injury care. Find out what you need to stay OSHA compliant today by calling 1-844-622-8633, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This investigation was first reported by the Journal Sentinel.