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April 24, 1998

Bridge contractor fined $197,500 for exposing workers to lead hazard

TUMWATER The state Department of Labor & Industries has cited and fined a Woodinville bridge contractor $197,500 for violating health rules intended to protect workers from the health hazards of lead exposure during a seismic retro-fit project on the University Bridge in Seattle.

David A. Mowat Co. and M. L. Mowat Co., doing business as Mowat Construction Co. of Woodinville, was cited for multiple infractions of worker health rules, including four willful violations. Workers were exposed to lead up to 80 times permitted levels. The infractions were grouped into 15 violations on the basis of corresponding or related hazards.

Overexposure to lead is a serious health hazard that can result in damage to the brain, nerves, kidneys, blood cells and reproductive organs. Lead enters the body either by being breathed or ingested as dust, mist or fumes in the air. Lead dust also can be swallowed if it gets on hands, clothes or beards, or gets in food, drinks or cigarettes.

Under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA), employers are required to train, equip and protect their workers from exposure to lead, including burning, welding, grinding, painting and other construction activities that might disturb lead, according to Dr. Michael Silverstein, L&I’s assistant director for WISHA Services.

"Lead is a serious health hazard for many workers, and especially for those in construction activities where there is a greater likelihood that lead in paint and other materials will be disturbed and ingested," he said. "Lead exposure endangers the lives of workers and threatens the health of their families. We are serious about bringing this problem under control in the construction industry."

This citation is part of a national emphasis in the construction industry where lead is widely used on metal bridges because of its weatherability. Silverstein pointed out that the regulations protecting construction workers have been in effect for several years, and that the agency has worked jointly with contractors and unions to raise awareness of the hazard, including development of a training manual.

"We know a great deal about controlling lead exposure, and we will continue to work closely with the construction industry to protect workers," he said. "But we also will continue to cite employers who know the rules and do not follow them. There must be serious consequences for employers who endanger their workers."

The citation marked the second time in as many months that the company was fined for lead exposure violations. Last month, a separate investigation of a bridge maintenance project in Longview on the Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Columbia River resulted in nine violations and penalties totaling $73,000. Mowat has appealed that citation.

Additionally, although L&I’s jurisdiction is limited to workers, L&I’s inspection determined that workers took lead-contaminated clothes from the worksite to their vehicles and possibly their homes. Also, because children are particu

larly susceptible to the serious effects of lead exposure, the agency recommended that the children of these workers visit a physican to determine if blood tests for lead are warranted.

The agency also encouraged the employer to develop a list of employees who might have been exposed to lead and advise them to clean surfaces that may have been contaminated in their vehicles and homes.

The willful violation indicates that the employer intentionally violated worker protection rules, or exhibited plain indifference that a violation was occurring and failed to take corrective action. Specifically, Mowat was cited for four willful violations, including:

  • Exposing employees to lead at 80 times permissible exposure levels. ($50,000 penalty)
  • Failing to remove two employees with elevated lead-blood levels from work that exposed them to lead. ($50,000)
  • Failing to meet initial job task requirements, including protecting workers when they started work, inappropriate interim respiratory protection, inadequate hand washing and changing facilities and respiratory fit-tests. ($40,000)
  • Failure to meet a variety of adequate monitoring and testing requirements, including initial assessments, on-going sampling and additional air monitoring when there were changes of equipment, process, control, personnel or new tasks. ($25,000)

Additionally, Mowat was cited for 10 serious violations, including:

  • Failure to have and implement an effective written lead compliance program. Issues included regular and frequent inspections by a qualified person, air monitoring data, exposure assessments and compliance methods. ($2,500)
  • Deficient hazard communication and training. Issues included warning signs and labels, material safety data sheets and inadequate training for respiratory protection and chemical hazards. ($4,000)
  • Deficient engineering and environmental controls. Issues included feasible engineering and work practice controls, evaluation of ventilation controls and posting of warning signs. ($2,500)
  • Incorrect (initial) respiratory protection. Issues included inappropriate respirator selection, ineffective respiratory protection program and no one qualified person assigned responsibility for supervising respirator program. ($4,000)
  • Deficient housekeeping/workpractices/personal protective equipment and hygiene. Issues included failure to provide protective clothing and equipment, no shower facilities, employees eating without removing lead from clothes and employees wearing work clothes home. ($4,000)
  • Medical surveillance. Issues included employer’s failure to provide initial and follow-up medical surveillance and medical removal protection benefits. ($2,500)
  • Recordkeeping and notification. Numerous violations of recordkeeping requirements for employees overexposed to lead and subsequent notifications. ($2,000)

The employer also was cited for other violations including:

  • Employer failed to meet requirements for an effective hearing conservation program. ($2,500)
  • Asbestos hazard violations. ($2,000)
  • Failing to ensure that a sub-contractor protected workers from lead hazards. ($2,500)

The company also was cited a general violation for failing to conduct a good faith survey to determine whether or not asbestos was present. ($4,000)

The employer has 15 working days from receipt of the violation report to appeal.

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