Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Lead Abatement Job Triggers Respiratory Protection

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Lead Abatement Job Triggers Respiratory Protection

Article excerpt

In September 1987, Morrison-Knudsen Co. Inc. and Yonkers Contracting Co. Inc. began a joint venture to demolish a bridge in Brooklyn, N.Y. As part of the job, some workers were using cutting torches on structural steel which was covered with lead-based paint.

An OSHA compliance officer conducted a general inspection of the site. The compliance officer discovered that the cutting, although it was done in open air, generated hazardous levels of airborne lead. Employees were exposed to these particulates. The compliance officer believed he saw workers using dirty respirators, and workers told him the respirators were never cleaned.

The joint venture was accused of violating 29 CFR 1926.55(a), which requires that employee exposure to toxins above permissible exposure limits be avoided. Additionally, the Secretary of Labor alleged a violation of 1929.55(b), which requires that employers implement engineering controls or use personal protective equipment to be in compliance with the standard. The joint venture also received a willful citation for alleged violations of 29 CFR 1926.103(c)(5) and 1910.134(b)(5), which govern the maintenance of respirators.

In total, OSHA alleged seven willful violations, with a proposed penalty of $60,000. The agency also alleged an other-than-serious violation of 29 CFR 1904.2(a) for failure to record elevated blood-lead levels. No penalty was proposed for this citation.

Morrison-Knudsen/Yonkers representatives contested the citations. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Irving Sommer affirmed the violations for the first two citations but denied the other two regarding respiratory maintenance. The ALJ assessed a total of $40,000 in penalties.

The ALJ concluded that 1926.103, the respiratory maintenance requirements cited by OSHA, did not apply in this situation. According to Judge Sommer, this part of OSHA's construction standard states that respirators used by an employee must be cleaned before they are given to another employee, but not used by the same employee. Also, it says emergency rescue equipment must be cleaned after use.

In vacating item four, the judge determined that there was no proof that "the same respirator was issued to different employees" or that the "respirators were for emergency rescue."

The joint venture appealed the judge's decision to uphold the other two citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Secretary of Labor v. …

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