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Published: Wednesday, 5/2/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Local factory fined $188,600 for safety issues

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Federal investigators say Johnson Controls Inc. violated several workplace health regulations, exposing employees to higher-than-permissible levels of lead at the company's Springfield Township battery plant.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Tuesday it has levied a $188,600 fine against the Milwaukee auto parts supplier for 11 violations found during an Oct. 25 inspection of the plant. All 11 violations were deemed "serious" by OSHA.

Three were repeat violations, and one was marked willful, the most serious classification.

The willful violation was related to employees using push brooms and dustpans to clean workspaces at the end of their shifts. OSHA said that method exposes workers to higher levels of lead particles than the preferred method of vacuuming.

The repeat violations were for exposure to more lead than allowed by rule and for poor housekeeping that allowed lead particles to accumulate on surfaces.

"Johnson Controls Battery Group has a responsibility to protect the health of its employees by assuring they operate in a manner to eliminate or minimize lead hazards and other hazardous substances used in the work environment," Denise Keller, assistant area director of OSHA's Toledo Area Office, said in a statement. "Employers who are cited for repeat violations demonstrate a lack of commitment to employee safety and health."

A Johnson Controls spokesman told The Blade in an e-mail that the company intends to appeal.

"It is our belief that the violations cited are not appropriate in light of the actual conditions at the plant and we are following OSHA's process to appeal," said Rebecca Fitzgerald, Johnson Controls' external communications director for power solutions.

"Johnson Controls is the market leader and global benchmark in environment, health, and safety performance in the automotive battery industry. We have a strong record of safety performance in this facility, with employee blood-lead levels below U.S. OSHA requirements. We hope to work with OSHA to resolve these issues as quickly as possible."

Johnson Controls has 15 days from OSHA's filing to pay the fine, request a conference with OSHA, or contest the findings. OSHA initiated the inspection based on a complaint. A spokesman said the agency does not release information on the nature or submission of complaints.

Other violations included failing to provide adequate equipment such as eye and face protection and flame-retardant clothing for employees working with molten lead and failing to assure that change rooms were equipped with separate storage facilities for street and work clothes, potentially contaminating workers' clothing with lead residue.

The plant employs more than 400 and builds lead-acid automotive batteries.



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