OSHA Hammers Steel Foundry for Overexposing Workers to Crystalline Silica

Breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, an incurable condition that reduces the ability of lungs to take in oxygen.

OSHA has cited Northern Steel Castings Inc. for two safety and four health violations at its Wisconsin Rapids carbon steel foundry for overexposing workers to crystalline silica, a known respiratory hazard. Proposed fines total $95,480.

"Exposing workers to a known hazardous substance, such as crystalline silica, beyond OSHA's permissible exposure limit is unacceptable," said Kim Stille, OSHA's area director in Madison. "Employers have a responsibility to monitor workers' exposure to known hazards in their industries, and to ensure that work environments are healthful and safe."

OSHA initiated the inspection after receiving a complaint alleging overexposure to crystalline silica, a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and other minerals. When workers chip, cut, drill, or grind objects that contain silica, small particles can be created that are respirable. Breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, an incurable condition that reduces the ability of lungs to take in oxygen. OSHA's inspection confirmed that workers were overexposed to crystalline silica and one willful safety violation was cited.

Northern Steel Castings also was cited for two repeat health violations for allowing workers to be overexposed to iron oxide and copper fumes in the foundry, and for exposing employees to fire hazards when welding inside plywood booths. The company was cited for these violations in 2006.

Additionally, three serious health violations were cited for failing to keep eating surfaces free from contamination by hexavalent chromium, failing to provide ventilation when welding, and for failing to provide adequate emergency exits.

Northern Steel Castings had been inspected by OSHA 24 times prior to this inspection and was cited for overexposure to silica six other times.

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