FEDERAL HEALTH, SAFETY INVESTIGATION
'High number' of violations found at PSNS
March 3, 2002
OSHA revealed some unsafe employee conditions directly related to exposure of two toxic metals.
federal investigation has found 11 serious health violations at Puget Sound
Naval Shipyard, government documents show.
U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found
unsanitary or unsafe conditions stemming from toxic metals — cadmium and lead
— in lunch rooms, water fountains and in highly industrial areas, particularly
where ship recycling occurs.
investigation also found three additional violations at PSNS — a serious
safety violation, a repeat health violation and a minor violation.
consider this to be a high number of violations," said OSHA Area Director
Joy Flack, who performed the investigation. "We conducted this
investigation because of a complaint."
officials said that they are responding to the findings and that they are
confident employees have suffered no health problems.
main issue is long-term exposure to the toxic metals, Flack said.
no established limits for heavy metals because they accumulate in your body over
time," Flack said. "The ideal situation is not to have any exposure to
any of them. After so much accumulation, you start to experience health
most serious of the violations, which included a repeat violation, involved the
presence of toxic metals in lunch rooms and on water fountains in buildings near
Drydock 3 and Pier A inside the shipyard.
November, traces of lead and cadmium were found during wipe samplings at two
water fountains in Drydock 3. In October, a wipe sampling found traces of
cadmium in one lunch room.
the lone repeat violation, wipe samplings in August and December found traces of
lead in "established eating facilities and areas where employees regularly
consume food or beverages," the investigation said. Samples were taken in
five buildings, including three lunch rooms.
all the other industrial sites and shipyards that I have been to that work with
heavy metals, they do not allow eating, drinking or smoking in areas where those
metals are present," Flack said.
has until April 8 to remedy the violations.
cannot fine the shipyard because it is a federal entity.
are confident we can improve on practicing and enforcing the requirements of the
shipyard's procedures, and we will," said PSNS spokeswoman Mary Anne
added that noncompliance with PSNS cleanliness standards also are being
are confident that our employees have no abnormal health findings from the
minute amounts found on those eating surfaces," Mascianica said.
only one wipe-sampling instance did lead levels exceed more than 50 micrograms
per square foot. Lead levels for children are recommended not to exceed 400
micrograms per square foot — adults have a much higher tolerance, Department
of Health toxicologist Jim White said.
said the exposures for lead in OSHA's report are not considered high for
lead exposure is the leading cause of workplace illness in industry.
is a widespread concern," White said. "That's why they got rid of lead
in gas, paints and tin cans for holding food."
samples of 60 shipyard employees — examined as part of the investigation —
came back clean, Flack said.
said the shipyard's medical surveillance program has been critical in preventing
long-term exposure to toxic metals. She said the shipyard is "very
conservative" in removing employees who show a certain level of lead in
Navy's medical surveillance program for lead and cadmium meets or exceeds the
OSHA standard by using more stringent criteria for biological monitoring,"
standard for blood lead is 40 micrograms of lead per 100 grams of whole blood.
The Navy requires employee removal at 30 micrograms, but PSNS is twice as
stringent as OSHA at 20 micrograms, Mascianica said.
have never been any job-related blood lead results at the shipyard over the OSHA
limits and none in the past three years over the Navy limit.
cadmium is a highly toxic metal, exposure limits are extremely low. Ingested or
inhaled, cadmium can cause lung cancer or kidney damage.
a person's health is generally affected by exposure is difficult to determine,
all very individual," White said. "Different people have different
reactions to various chemicals. It's impossible to predict."
why the shipyard unions want their membership's medical records to reflect the
cadmium and lead exposure.
had exposure over a long period of a time," said Bob Steinmetz, president
of the local chapter of the International Federation of Professional Technical
Engineers. "My major concern is that these exposures are added to
employees' medical records to say that they've been exposed.
question really is what kind of impact does this have on somebody? Everything is
also said he is concerned about sailors and contractors who work in the same
a family issue," he said. "They eat with us and visit the same places
as we do. Who's looking out for them? I'm just as concerned about them as I am
violations cited the shipyard for not providing or assuring that employees wear
proper protective clothing and shoe coverings who perform torch-cutting or
burning tasks in lead-regulated areas. Those employees are exposed to lead and
cadmium above the personal exposure limits, the report said.
in those areas were supposed to be able to exchange dirty or used coveralls for
a clean pair every day. However, the report said all employees interviewed by
OSHA said they exchanged coveralls every 15 days. Those violations were
corrected during the inspection, the report said.
violations included shoveling or sweeping where vacuuming was not tried or once
found to be effective. Sweeping in areas where toxic metals can spread the
contaminants through the air, Flack said.
shipyard is in discussions with its unions on all health issues, Mascianica
"Is there a better way to do the job we're trying to do? The union reps and production and management teams are working hard to address these issues," she said.
primary adverse health effects of cadmium are lung cancer and kidney damage.
enters the body through inhalation and ingestion.
can't be absorbed into the skin. It is an extremely toxic metal commonly found
in industrial workplaces.
to its low permissible exposure limit, overexposures may occur even in
situations where cadmium is only in trace quantities in the parent ore or
to lead is a leading cause of workplace illness.
OSHA has established the reduction of lead exposure to be a high strategic priority. OSHA's has set a goal of reducing the average severity of lead exposure or lead levels in the blood of employees by 15 percent over the next five years in selected industries and workplaces.