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Metal Finishing Hazards in Massachusetts

Metal finishing workplaces in Massachusetts have many hazards because they are some of the biggest users of toxic chemicals. “Metal finishing” refers to processes such as electroplating. It is used in manufacturing in the automotive, aerospace, hardware, jewelry, telecommunications, heavy equipment, appliances and electronics industries. Unfortunately,

Recently the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) cited a New England metal finishing company for fifteen violations of their health and safety standards. The fines totaled $66,220.

The OSHA area director explained that employees were exposed to these hazards: fire, chemical burns, lacerations and eye injuries. The employer hadn’t provided emergency eyewash or face protection even though workers were around caustic liquids. The grinders and shafting had inadequate guards. The hazardous chemicals were not labeled.

The plant had previously been cited six times for repeat violations. Nine of the citations were for failing to monitor workers’ exposure levels to formaldehyde, failing to conduct an asbestos survey, failing to provide hand protection, failing to train workers with fire extinguishers, failing to maintain adequate spaces around spray booths and failing to properly get rid of combustible waste.

The severity of some of the conditions giving rise to the citations may not be immediately obvious. Labeling, for example, matters a lot where hazardous materials are concerned. The labels allow workers to be alert to potential dangers of overheating or release. For example, if a flammable liquid is accidentally released within the presence of an igniting source, rapid combustion or an explosion may occur. This is called the “flammable range” and there are minimum and maximum proportions of vapor or gas in air below or above which the mixture won’t be ignited in the presence of an ignition source.

Similarly, labeling allows workers to know when hand protection is appropriate. OSHA’s 1910.138 provides guidelines for appropriate hand protection. Hand protection is required whenever employees’ hands are exposed to absorption of harmful substances, severe cuts, abrasions, chemical burns, thermal burns and harmful temperatures. The appropriate hand protection is supposed to be selected based on the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the actions that are to be performed, the conditions of the workplace and the hazards. Without labeling, both employers and workers cannot know what hand protection is appropriate for the situation.

Employees’ formaldehyde exposure must be monitored for similar reasons. Formaldehyde is known to potentially cause cancer, as well as skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Long term exposure to formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems. Other symptoms of excess exposure include watery eyes, itchy eyes, irritated nose, a headache or a dry or sore throat. OSHA requires the monitoring of formaldehyde in the air to be accurate within 25% more or less. Those who become sensitized usually cannot remain on the job.

Those that work in manufacturing and are exposed to hazardous chemicals on a routine basis should take special care to make sure all health and safety rules are followed. If you have been seriously injured on the job and are experiencing chronic pain, an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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