The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently cited a New England manufacturer for 13 serious violations of its workplace safety standards. The company manufactures specialty coatings and polymers. It has been cited $55,300 in proposed fines. Massachusetts’s manufacturing employers should take special notice of this citation.
The citations fell under OSHA’s process safety management standard. This standard mandates that employers develop and implement process safety management programs related to their use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing process. The OSHA inspection revealed that the manufacturing plan was deficient in identifying and eliminating hazards associated with its use, storage, manufacture, and moving of highly hazardous chemicals. These chemicals require special care even when moving from one place on a site to another place at the same site.
The hazardous chemical was a flammable one: vinyl acetate, which is used in polymer manufacturing. OSHA discovered that the manufacturer did not have complete information about process equipment, did not determine that the equipment met the standards of good engineering practices, did not have written procedures to deal with any updates or changes, did not resolve recommendations in a timely fashion, did not address the findings of an incident report from two years before, and did not conduct a compliance audit.
OSHA limits the amount of vinyl acetate that is permissible in workroom air during a worker’s 8-hour shift (or 40-hr work week) as 10 ppm. The short-term exposure limit in a workroom is 20 ppm for a 15-minute period of exposure. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has further recommended that workers should not be exposed to vinyl acetate in a quantity that exceeds 4 ppm for any 15 minute period.
The EPA has not found any chronic effects from workers who are exposed to vinyl acetate. However acute inhalation has led to eye irritation and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. The EPA has found that exposure to vinyl acetate leads to lung damage and convulsions in rats that are exposed to high quantities of it. It also led to nasal epithelial lesions and inflammation of the respiratory tract in mice and rats that were chronically exposed to it. No information is known on its effects on reproduction or development in humans, but reduced body weight was reported in rats.
It has ben estimated that 50,000 American workers employed at about 5,000 plants are exposed to vinyl acetate. These are not only workers at polymer plants. Many factories make, store or dispose of vinyl acetate. Many items, like glues and paints and food packaging, contain it.
While scientists do not know yet whether there are permanent health-related effects as the result of long-term chronic exposure to vinyl acetate, we do know that short-term exposure can impair workers for shorter periods. Workers who are impaired are more likely to make mistakes. Vinyl acetate is hazardous because it is so flammable. A workplace that does not take adequate care to use best practices with hazardous chemicals is more likely to have accidents that result in serious injuries to workers.
If you work with hazardous chemicals and experience an accident at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can help if you need to file a claim or need a consultation. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.