Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Welding Arc Exposure Debated

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Welding Arc Exposure Debated

Article excerpt

At Trinity Industries Inc.'s Sharonville, Ohio ,plant, chemical processing. tanks are manufactured. In 1988, OSHA inspected the plant, and, afterwards, issued two citations, which included a four-item serious citation and a one-item repeat citation. The citations were for alleged violations of:

* 29 CFR 1910.252(b)(2)(iii) for failure to use screens to protect eyes of employees adjacent to welding arcs.

* 29 CFR 1910.132(a) for failure to ensure the use of safety belts.

* 29 CFR 1910.253(b)(2)(iv) for failure to have a valve protection cap on a cylinder designed to accept one.

* 29 CFR 1910.303Co)(1) for failure to examine equipment to ensure that it is free from recognized hazards.

Trinity Industries Inc. contested the citations, and the case was brought before Administrative Law Judge Joe D. Sparks. After his review of the evidence, he affirmed the repeat citation pertaining to welding screens, although he reduced its classification from "repeat" to "serious." In so doing, Sparks reduced the proposed penalty from $800 to $600. He also affirmed the alleged serious violations of the other three standards cited, involving safety belts, the valve cap on a gas cylinder, and the electrical hazards spawned by plug failures. The proposed, aggregate penalties of $3,000 for serious violation of the three standards were assessed by Sparks at $2,000.

Trinity Industries appealed to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. In reviewing the OSHA compliance officer's testimony, the Review Commission noted his statement that by taking a photograph of the welding work, he showed that he was able to view the welding work and any arc created by it because there was no welding screen between the plant's main aisle and the welding work. He referred to the main aisle as a "high traffic area," and added that the company's shop superintendent who had accompanied the compliance officer on the inspection agreed with the compliance officer's contention that there was a serious hazard of flash bums to the employees. The compliance officer did not state specifically that he saw employees using the aisle, but the administrative law judge inferred from the totality of the evidence that employees did use the aisle, could view the welding arcs, and could suffer flash bums.

Trinity's testimony did not dispute that the standard-in-question applied to its operations, or that the abatement method spelled out in the standard was not being applied. Instead, the company's argument turned on the definition of "adjacent." In its view, employees did not have access to the potential hazards present in the welding area from the aisle. Trinity contended that the Secretary of Labor had failed to show the distance of the welding operations from the main aisle, the size of the openings through which the arcs were visible, the hazard associated with exposure to welding arcs at whatever distance was involved, and whether any employees use the main aisle.

The Review Commission, finding sufficent evidence in these respects, dismissed the argument. Although the standard did not define the term "adjacent," its dictionary meaning, "relatively near," or "not distant or far off," shows that it was being used appropriately by those advocating safeguards. The photos taken by the compliance officer proved pivotal, as did his testimony, unrefuted by Trinity, that their shop superintendent agreed that existing screens were inadequate. The Commission accorded dispositive weight to the compliance officer's judgment that there was a hazard to employees passing on the main aisle. His judgment, the commission said, "is that of an informed safety professional."

The Review Commission upheld the administrative law judge's decision affirming this standard's violation and its reclassification as "serious."

As for the alleged violation of a safety belt standard, OSHA's Collins had photographed an employee walking across a cylindrical tank, measuring approximately 20 ft long, 5ft in diameter, and situated 9 ft above a concrete floor. …

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