OSHA fines foundry $250,000 in Franklin, NH

Federal authorities have fined a metal foundry in Franklin more than $250,000 after tests showed lead particle levels to be more than three times the legal limit in some areas inside the building. Officials said lead dust laced helmets and facemasks near a lunchroom where employees took their breaks.

An investigation started in April over a worker with high lead levels in his blood turned up a wide-ranging series of potentially deadly violations, including unmarked confined spaces under furnaces, electrical malfunctions and poor training.

The Franklin Non-Ferrous Foundry on Sanborn Street has two weeks to do a better job of protecting its workers and to pay the fines unless it contests the citations to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In total, the foundry faces three willful and 14 serious citations, according to Rosemarie Ohar, area director of the Occupation Safety and Health Administration. Serious citations are issued when there is a high likelihood of death or serious physical injury to an employee, she said.

“Chief among the hazards identified in the foundry are inadequate or absent protections for workers whose duties expose them to airborne concentrations of lead,” Ohar said.

On March 20, a factory foreman who performs finishing operations was found to have high levels of lead in his blood, according to citations. In May, factory managers failed to conduct federally mandated follow-up testing on the employee, the citations said. They also failed to follow medical recommendations that he be moved to a different working area.

Employees must be provided with work for up to 18 months away from potential sources of lead poisoning after testing positive, Ohar said.

“The sizeable fines proposed in this case reflect the fact that this employer well knows these safeguards are required to protect the health of its workers, yet has repeatedly refused to provide them,” she said.

In a 30-page report released yesterday and posted at the factory, OSHA found managers did not properly fit workers with masks to protect them from lead dust. Even for employees who had been fitted, a number of masks ready to be used were found already contaminated with lead. Others were working with masks but facial hair prevented a proper seal from being formed.

Lead dust is known to damage blood-forming, nervous, urinary and reproductive systems, Ohar said.

The factory produces brass, bronze and aluminum castings, according to its website. Lead is an integral part of making some of those metals, Ohar said.

It was unclear yesterday how big the factory is or the number of employees who work there. Calls to the factory yesterday afternoon were not answered.

The foundry was also cited for a slew of other issues investigators spotted as they were looking for lead dust.

There was no protection for workers from confined spaces under large furnaces used to forge metal. A forklift was illegally modified, and operators of other industrial machines lacked training. Electrical boxes were in dangerous locations near metal dust that could be set on fire. Circuit breakers were repeatedly reset after being tripped without anyone trying to figure out why.

It is not the first time OSHA has found violations at this foundry.

“I can say that we have significant history with this company,” Ohar said.

In a five-month investigation starting in September 2005, OSHA found 34 violations, of which 22 were considered serious. The foundry paid more than $120,000 in fines. In a subsequent visit in 2007, authorities fined the Franklin Non-Ferrous Foundry another $17,000 for six violations. Three serious violations were filed relating to lead exposure.

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