Navy Aircraft Facility In OSHA Trouble, Employees Exposed To Toxins

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Workers at a Navy aircraft maintenance facility in Coronado, Calif., were allegedly exposed extremely toxic substances including lead, cadmium and beryllium, OSHA workplace safety inspectors found.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued notices to the Navy regarding violations of workplace health and safety standards at the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest facility in Coronado.

Fleet Readiness Center Southwest is part of the U.S. Navy. It has about 10,000 employees nationwide.

The Coronado aircraft maintenance facility employs about 500 workers. It is the Navy’s primary aircraft maintenance and repair facility for the U.S. Pacific fleet.

Seahawk helicopters are among the aircraft services at the Coronado, Calif, facility where OSHA found workers were exposed to toxins.
Seahawk helicopters are among the aircraft serviced at the Coronado, Calif, facility where OSHA found workers were exposed to toxins.

The move puts OSHA in the somewhat unusual position of enforcing workplace safety laws in another branch of the federal government.

As required by the law, federal agencies must comply with the same health and safety standards as private employers.

Three OSHA Inspections

OSHA inspected the Navy’s aircraft Coronado facility three times in 2011. The result was notices for 21 serious violations, including two related to the accumulation of radioactive cadmium.

The federal agency equivalent of a private sector citation is the notice of an unhealthful or unsafe working condition, which informs agency officials of violations. OSHA cannot propose fines against another federal agency for failure to comply with safty standards.

“Exposing workers to metals such as lead, cadmium and beryllium can result in serious illness and even fatal respiratory disease,” said Jay Vicory, director of OSHA’s San Diego office. “We are encouraged by the Department of the Navy’s response to OSHA’s intervention, and we are working cooperatively with that department to further mitigate the hazards uncovered.

Two alleged willful violations involve allowing workers to store and consume food and beverages in areas contaminated by toxic materials such as lead, the radioactive toxins cadmium and beryllium.

The OSHA investigation also found hazards associated with the accumulation of cadmium in the workplace and hazards associated with dry sweeping, which may be used only when vacuuming or other methods to minimize the likelihood of cadmium dust becoming airborne are not effective.

A willful violation is committed while intentionally knowing of or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Two alleged serious violations involve the accumulation of lead dusts throughout the workplace.

These violations involve the use of dry sweeping to clean work areas where lead was found and a failure to implement a program for beryllium hazard prevention and control.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

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