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August 16, 2013
OSHA calls steel manufacturer's actions 'unacceptable'

OSHA has hammered an Ohio-based steel manufacturer for a series of violations carrying proposed fines of $1.1 million, many of which involve a lack of fall protection.

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Read on to find out why OSHA appears to be losing patience with this employer.

Enforcement staff arrived at a manufacturing site as the result of a formal complaint from the United Steelworkers. The union alleged inadequate fall protection and other unsafe practices that exposed workers in the melt shop to a variety of hazards. OSHA found that two workers had been seriously injured in falls at the same plant last summer.

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels put it bluntly, “It is unacceptable that [the company] has not taken more effective steps to improve safety … particularly in light of a 2012 settlement aimed at exactly that. OSHA will remain diligent in its commitment to protect America’s steel workers.”

Where did they go wrong?

OSHA identified a total of 15 willful violations for not providing fall protection at the facility. Problems included a lack of fall protection while working on runway girders 66 feet above ground and the risk of falls from 30 feet due to missing and damaged guardrails.

Workers were also exposed to falls above the slag pit and the electric arc furnace. A repeat violation was issued because the company did not indicate the location of permit-required confined spaces.

The newest batch of citations will keep the company in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which requires targeted follow-up inspections. Under SVEP rules, OSHA can inspect any of the company’s facilities if it believes there is a high probability of death or physical harm from a hazard the employer knew of or should have known of.

Review OSHA’s fall protection rules for general industry to make sure you’re in compliance. The basic requirements are as follows:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk by use of a railing and toe board or a floor hole cover.
  • Provide a guardrail and toe board around every open-sided platform, floor, or runway 4 feet or higher off the ground.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto equipment, you must provide guardrails and toe boards.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required include safety harnesses and lines, safety nets, stair railings, and handrails.
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