Workers exposed to lead levels two-and-a-half times the permissible limit
SPOONER, Wisconsin – When a Wisconsin explosive component manufacturer started a new production line at its Spooner facility, the company failed to comply with federal safety standards to protect its employees from the dangers of exposure to lead used in the production process, federal investigators say. An OSHA inspection found R. Stresau Laboratory Inc. failed to implement a combination of engineering, work practice, and respiratory protection controls. By doing so, the employer exposed about 40 employees to lead. Personal and wipe sampling conducted by OSHA found four employees were overexposed – two above the action level and two over the permissible exposure limit. Stresau produces components used by the defense industry to build missiles and warheads. The company currently has a contract with the U.S. Navy.
On September 23, 2016, OSHA proposed $143,576 in penalties after citing one willful violation, eight serious violations and one other-than-serious violation.
“OSHA found that employees were breathing in significant amounts of lead and had elevated blood lead levels. Elevated levels can cause debilitating and permanent health issues,” said Mark Hysell, OSHA’s area director in Eau Claire. “R. Stresau ignored federal regulations when it failed to conduct air monitoring for lead and allowed the use of respiratory protection to be voluntary when it should have been required as a health precaution.”
In addition to overexposing at least four workers, the agency’s April 2016 investigation found the laboratory failed to conduct monitoring to assess employee exposure to lead, failed to implement an adequate lead compliance program and respiratory protection program, and failed to provide training on the hazards and symptoms of lead exposure. Overexposure to lead can lead to brain damage as well as kidney disease, gastrointestinal issues, and anemia.
The agency also found that R. Stresau Laboratory failed to:
- Follow respiratory protection requirements, including fit-testing employees, identifying and evaluating respiratory hazards;
- Conduct preventative maintenance checks on ventilation systems;
- Require the use of personal protective equipment; and
- Provide changing rooms and showers for employees exposed to lead hazards to prevent cross-contamination and lead dust leaving the facility.
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