Sterilization Firm Cited for Repeat Ethylene Oxide Hazards

OSHA has proposed $117,000 in fines against Steris Isomedix Services Inc., a medical devices sterilization company in Waukegan, Ill., for repeat and serious violations of federal workplace safety standards. As the result of a safety and health inspection conducted in August 2007, OSHA issued the company citations for three repeat violations, with proposed penalties of $62,500, for failing to provide adequate protection, training, monitoring, and emergency plans regarding employee exposure to ethylene oxide (EtO), a dangerous, colorless gas used in the sterilization process.

The agency also issued the company citations for 12 serious violations, with proposed penalties of $54,500, for its failure to address hazards associated with exposures to EtO; implement engineering controls to lower employee exposure to EtO levels exceeding OSHA's permissible exposure limits; provide baseline medical examinations for employees prior to working with EtO; and address the absence of guardrails on platforms and scaffolding.

Previously, OSHA inspected the company five times between 1999 and 2006 at various locations. Stressing that OSHA will take swift action against employers who violate safety hazards, Diane Turek, OSHA's area director in Des Plaines, Ill., said: "This company's continued disregard for the welfare of its employees is inexcusable. This case demonstrates the importance of following appropriate occupational safety and health standards to reduce and prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the workplace." The company employs 37 people at the Waukegan site. It is a subsidiary of Steris Corp., headquartered in Mentor, Ohio, which employs 5,000 people companywide.

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