The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 17, 2013

Ball faces $589K fine

OSHA: Workers face ‘egregious’ safety dangers

By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor

HUBBARD — A Hubbard container manufacturer faces proposed fines of $589,000 for what the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration called “willful’’ and “egregious’’ violations.

OSHA cited Ball Aerosol and Specialty Container Inc. with 11 safety violations, including seven willful and three repeated ones, for exposing workers to hazards at its Hubbard metal container plant, the agency said in a news release. The local plant produces three-piece welded paint and general-line cans.

Ball’s signature canning jars are produced elsewhere.

The fines and citations stem from an Oct. 17 OSHA inspection of the Hubbard plant which employs 57. The agency said it had received a complaint alleging Ball Aerosol continued to expose machine operators to hazards – even though it had been cited by OSHA for lack of machine guards on the same equipment in 2009.

OSHA’s inspection found the company knowingly permitted workers to operate the machines without proper guarding, the agency said. The inspection revealed that the guarding had not been  installed or was removed because it slowed production.

“Ball Aerosol’s management made a decision to continue to expose machine operators to serious amputation hazards,’’ Nick Walters, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago said in the news release. “Workers should not be asked to take such risks, and OSHA will not tolerate such disregard for worker safety.’’

OSHA issued six willful, egregious citations for inadequate guards over the blades of slitters that cut metal to dimensions needed for cans. The company had certified it fixed the problem  in 2009 and had an earlier  history of violations.

A seventh willful citation was issued for lack of  guards on other machines that exposed operators to amputation hazards of the hands and fingers.

“The company was certainly aware of the requirement that they needed to have guarding,’’ Rhonda Burke, an OSHA spokeswoman said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “They  chose to ignore the need for those safeguards.’’

In a statement, the company said it “... disagrees strongly with the OSHA citation and characterizations in its press statement regarding conditions” at the plant.

Aerosol Ball further added, “We intend to resolve our disagreements through the regulatory process and accordingly cannot comment further, except to note we take this issue very seriously and have begun a review of OSHA’s citation and the safety processes we have in place. We will take whatever measures that are appropriate at the end of this review to ensure that we are continuing to maintain a safe environment for our employees.’’

Workers at the plant are represented by the United Steelworkers but a message left for a union official wasn’t returned Tuesday.

Three repeat safety violations were cited for failing to provide fire extinguisher training to employees; provide machine guarding to protect operators from rotating parts, nip and pinch points in machine areas; and to guard the blades at two mechanical guillotine shears.

These violations were previously cited during the 2009 inspection, OSHA said.

One serious citation was issued for exposing workers to falls of about 10 feet while working on a platform with open sides.

Ball Aerosol has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. The program focuses on what OSHA calls “recalcitrant’’ employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

Proposed fines against Aerosol Ball are believed to be the highest ever sought by OSHA against a company in the greater area.

The company has 15 business days after receiving OSHA’s notice to contest the proposed penalties and citations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review.

Headquartered in Broomfield, Colo., Aerosol Ball produces small metal containers for use by a variety of food, beverage and chemical industries. The company employs about 12,000 workers, operates 31 production plants in the U.S. and has facilities in Asia, Europe, South America and Canada.