The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited Mid-America Steel Drum facility for 15 violations, which include exposing workers toxic fumes, chemical and heat burns, and more. OSHA reported the company exposed employees to dangerous conditions when they mixed dangerous materials left in the bottom of the barrels. Mid-America Steel Drum facility could face up to $108,000 in federal fines for putting employees at risk by knowingly exposing them to dangerous mixtures of chemicals, and an increased risk of falls.
The company is part of a group of facilities that recycles and conditions industrial totes. The facilities are owned by Container Life Cycle Management (CLCM), which has an estimated 270 employees, and there are additional facilities in Oak Creek, St. Francis, Indianapolis, Memphis, and Arkadelphia. Greif Inc., which is headquartered in Delaware, Ohio, is the primary owner of CLCM. According to a representative from Greif Inc., the company is “cooperating” closely with OSHA officials. Furthermore, a spokesperson from Grief Inc. provided a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that explained the company does not agree with the accusations but will work with OSHA to resolve the problem in a timely manner.
In February, the Journal Sentinel published findings of an investigation on Greif’s CLCM facility. The Journal Sentinel explained how unsafe practices at these facilities caused work injuries and posed a risk to the environment. According to CLCM employees, the drums would sometimes arrive at the facility without being completely empty, which is a violation of regulations, and would result in employees being exposed to dangerous chemicals. Employees mix the different chemical remnants into containers without knowing what chemicals are being mixed and what chemical reactions could occur.
Workers reported that totes would arrive at the facility with dangerous chemicals wallowing at the bottom. When workers pour different chemicals in a container, there is a chance the totes could explode and release hazardous gases in the air. The irresponsible practices have also resulted in employees suffering from serious chemical burns and respiratory problems. In 1984, which was prior to Grief and CLCM’s involvement in the industry, a 23 year old employee was killed when a drum exploded in his face at a sister plant owned by Mid-America.
The Journal Sentinel discovered this information from 16 hours of audio recordings as well as hundreds of pages of inquiry reports and safety audits that were provided by a whistleblower. Furthermore, additional information was found from federal, state, and local records, photographs, and medical reports. The Journal Sentinel also held interviews with eight former employees from three facilities.
OSHA reported the worker receives, stores, and processes totes, which contain dangerous chemicals such as sulfuric acid hydrochloric isopropanol, sodium hypochlorite, and more. Furthermore, employees at the north side Milwaukee plant were not handling acetone correctly, which exposed employees to fire dangers. Investigators from OSHA also discovered employees were not provided with enough information about the hazardous chemicals they were handling. The employees were permitted to enter the facility without following procedures that would make certain employees were in a safe work environment that is free from dangerous vapors or gases caused by a toxic chemical reaction.
Will Kramer, the whistleblower and former Grief risk assessment consultant, described the penalties set by OSHA as “a regulatory failure” and the $108,000 fine as “pocket change.” In 2016, Greif’s net sales were $3.3 billion. A $108,000 fine for safety violations is not going to have a significant impact on the company. Kramer stated OSHA inspectors didn’t reach out to him for evidence Greif knew about the hazardous practices that were taking place at the facilities and made no effort to correct the problem.
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