OSHA levies fines against local industryManaging partner says company working closely with OSHA to resolve issues

Friday, March 13, 2015

Workers welding inside steel tanks were reportedly exposed to toxic fumes because their employer lacked an effective program to protect them, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration following an inspection of the Fort Scott facility by OSHA.

Niece Products of Kansas received 15 serious safety and health citations, including one for failing to implement a respiratory program for workers in confined spaces at its Fort Scott facility. Proposed penalties total $60,200, said the U.S. Department of Labor news release Thursday.

Patrick Flanagan, managing partner for Niece Products, said Thursday the company is working with OSHA.

"It's ongoing," he said. "We're working closely with OSHA. We have every expectation we run a safe company and will continue to do so."

Flanagan declined to provide additional details on the allegations. However, he said he may be able to comment further at a later date.

"This is all supposed to be resolved by the end of the month," he said.

"Welding inside a confined space, such as a tank, can expose employees to toxic fumes with immediate health impacts," Judy Freeman, OSHA's area director in Wichita said in the release. "Employers are required and must take specific measures to protect workers in these environments."

OSHA found that Niece Products did not evaluate employee exposure to respiratory hazards associated with welding inside tanks and lacked a written respiratory protection program. Initiated by a complaint, the October 2014 inspection also found electrical hazards and a paint booth where flammable materials were stored and no sprinkler system existed, the release said.

A confined space is one large enough for workers to enter and perform certain jobs, such as a holding tank, but it has limited or restricted means for entry or exit and is not designed for continuous occupancy, the release said.

Numerous additional violations were found in the corrugated metal paint booth, including using a paint shaker, which can produce sparks; electrical equipment not rated for exposure to flammable materials; improper storage of flammable materials; and failing to display no smoking signs, the release said.

The inspection also found fans and pulleys lacked adequate mechanisms to prevent workers from coming in contact with operating parts, the release said.

An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists, the release said.

Niece Products employs about 40 people in Fort Scott who manufacture, sell and lease water and fuel trucks, and water towers used in the construction industry. The company is owned by Niece Equipment in Irving, Texas and employs nearly 100 workers corporate-wide.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the release said.

"Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance."