OR Manufacturer Faces Repeat Violations

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 @ 02:02 PM gHale

Precision Castparts is facing 32 violations at its large parts campus in Milwaukie and Southeast Portland, OR, raising safety concerns for the third time since 2008, Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said.

The citations include $26,050 in penalties related to cleaning operations in the two plants, which make precise steel and titanium components for aircraft engines, industrial gas turbines and the military.

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Twenty-eight of the citations were serious, with nine having the potential to cause death. They stem from a 23-page complaint by Ryan Edwards, a temporary employee in 2011 who submitted the OSHA complaint after first sending it to the company.

Some of the violations were repeats, Oregon OSHA spokeswoman Melanie Mesaros said, and the company did not correct some significant violations Edwards pointed out until after the OSHA inspection.

“Some of their programs were seriously flawed,” Mesaros said. “When you have repeat violations and you find problems that aren’t being corrected, it’s disappointing.”

Precision Castparts declined to comment in detail. The company “will continue to work closely with OSHA to provide a safe working environment,” said Dwight Weber, company spokesman.

Precision Castparts is one of two Fortune 500 companies based in Oregon, with the company reporting $307.3 million of net income in its third quarter. It employs up to 1,200 non-union workers at the large parts campus at an average of $21 an hour plus benefits. OSHA considers it a “high hazard” workplace.

The company hit the news last May, when toxic chemicals released after a power outage and equipment failure. Firefighters ordered nearby residents to shelter in place. No one suffered and injury and the company said the community was never at risk.

In 2008, OSHA found eight serious violations at the campus. OSHA issued a hazard letter “to address the disconnect that appears to exist” between operations and the safety department.

After two injuries that required hospitalization in 2010, OSHA issued 24 serious violations. A report cited “systematic occurrences of electrical hazards” and “a lack of hazard recognition or a gap in the existing programs for recognizing and controlling the hazards.”

The latest inspections occurred from October to December in the cleaning departments, In a letter to Edwards, OSHA said it found his accusation of an “emphasis on getting work done quickly regardless of worker safety issues” to be “true.”

At the plants, workers shape and weld wax molds, dip them in a slurry, then coat them with sand to create a cast filled in 2,000-degree foundries with titanium or steel alloys.

In the cleaning departments, the parts dip in large tanks of high-temperature caustic chemicals — sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide — to remove most of the casting shell. In 2001, a worker died after falling into a tank while trying to remove a stuck part.

Workers periodically enter empty tanks to clean them — known as “tank digging.” OSHA said controls that send caustic solution and steam into tanks in the titanium plant were not properly locked before workers climbed in last summer, posing a risk of death if they ended up turned on, and training in the “lock out/tag out” procedures was inadequate.

Among other problems OSHA noted:
• Worker hoists for “tank digging” seemed heavily worn and not designed for rescue.
• Some chemical protective suits in the titanium plant had large holes patched with duct tape. When suits are damaged mid-shift, “employees are forced to work with unprotected sleeves.”
• Floors near tanks were extremely uneven due to shell buildup and deterioration from caustic chemicals, a tripping hazard.

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