Sloppy use of PPE leads to blockbuster OSHA fine

by on May 10, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“We’ve got workers wearing hoods and respirators – they look like they’d be ready for a moon landing,” said Supervisor Henry Chandless. “And we’ve got an exhaust ventilation system. We’re doing this right.”

“What you’re doing is nowhere near enough,” said OSHA Compliance Officer Jeff Lawton. “You do understand the risks of contamination from abrasively blasting lead-based paint, don’t you?”

“Of course,” said Henry. “But no way the lead exposure is 18 times the PEL.”

“That’s what our readings say,” said Jeff.

Not testing correctly
Henry took a look at the CO’s findings and then talked to his workers. An hour later, he told the CO, “I see the problem. First, you’re testing the air inside the tent, not inside the hood of the respirator.”

“Right, that’s the OSHA reg,” said Jeff. “You test the air outside the respirator, but inside the containment tent. I’ve also noticed workers store the respirators in the containment tent overnight. That contaminates them.”

“All right, we’ll take care of the storage,” said Henry. “But your measurements are off. Look, one of my guys put his monitoring equipment in backward. It’s facing up, which means that lead particles are falling directly into the monitor – and this gives a false reading.”

Results close enough?
“Yeah, I noticed that. But his results are about the same as everyone else’s,” said Jeff. “It might have been different if his results were way off.”

“Everyone’s results are off,” said Henry. “These guys tell me they’ve dropped the monitoring equipment onto lead-covered surfaces, and they’ve bumped into these surfaces, too. Those particles are throwing off the readings.”

“I considered that, too,” said Jeff. “But I’ve done some independent tests, and they confirm the airborne lead levels.”

Challenge fails
The company challenged the citation, but lost and must pay more than $1 million in fines. The OSHA judges gave the following reasons:

  • The incorrect configuration and monitoring equipment didn’t throw off the readings. Neither did the “dropped” and “bumped” equipment.
  • The respirators were stored inside the lead-contaminated containment area overnight, ignoring that this would contaminate the respirators.

What this means to you
This case shows how even if you have the right PPE, you can still go wrong in three ways:

    • Incorrect configuration. One worker didn’t understand, despite direct instruction, how to configure his monitoring equipment. Check that workers have put equipment together correctly.
    • Wear-and-tear during work. Workers frequently bumped and dropped their monitoring equipment. In this case, the wear failed to change the readings, but it easily could have done so.
    • Storage. Make sure PPE is stored properly. Respirators, for example, shouldn’t be stored in areas where they’re likely to be contaminated.

Cite: Secretary of Labor v. E. Smalis Painting Co., Inc., No. 94-1979, OSHRC.

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