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Ensuring Workplace Safety: Protecting Employees from Hazardous Metals

A recent workplace safety inspection conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor has revealed that SK Battery America Inc., a global electric vehicle battery manufacturer, exposed its employees at its Commerce plant to serious safety and health hazards. The inspection carried out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) resulted in the citation of six serious violations and one other-than-serious violation.

Identified Violations

The violations found at SK Battery America Inc. include:

    • Continuous noise levels exceeding the recommended 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 A-weighted decibels, without the implementation of a monitoring program or establishment of an audiometric testing program.
    • Exposure of employees working with cobalt, nickel, and manganese to respiratory hazards due to the absence of a workplace hazard assessment, failure to provide clean and disinfected respirators, and improper storage of respirators.
    • Lack of access to eyewash stations and emergency showers for employees working with corrosive materials.
    • Inadequate protection for workers handling bags of nickel powder, resulting in increased exposure to respiratory hazards.

These violations pose significant risks to the safety and health of the employees, potentially leading to long-term health issues.

The Importance of Employee Safety

The rapid growth of the lithium battery industry comes with the responsibility to prioritize the safety of employees. Materials used in the production of lithium batteries can cause debilitating and permanent health problems. OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East emphasizes the need for employers to prioritize employee safety, stating, “No employer should overlook the reality that it is not just about advancing technology; it is about prioritizing the safety of your employees.”

Penalties and Contestation

OSHA has proposed penalties amounting to $75,449, as mandated by federal statute. SK Battery America Inc., which employs approximately 3,100 people at its two battery manufacturing plants in Commerce, has contested the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Implementing Workplace Safety Measures

Ensuring workplace safety is crucial for the well-being of employees. The following measures can help prevent similar safety hazards:

    • Implement a monitoring program and establish an audiometric testing program to ensure continuous noise levels are within the recommended limits.
    • Conduct thorough workplace hazard assessments to identify potential respiratory hazards and provide employees with clean, disinfected respirators.
    • Ensure access to eyewash stations and emergency showers for employees working with corrosive materials.
    • Implement feasible administrative or engineering controls to reduce exposure levels to respiratory hazards.

By implementing these safety measures, employers can protect their employees from potential health risks and contribute to a safe working environment.

Additional Resources

Employers can visit OSHA’s website for information on developing a workplace safety and health program. OSHA also provides compliance assistance resources and free help on complying with OSHA standards. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers a sound level meter app for mobile iOS devices, allowing users to measure sound levels in the workplace and receive noise exposure parameters to help reduce occupational noise-induced hearing loss. For more information on workplace noise levels and safety, visit OSHA’s noise exposure website.

Reference: US Department of Labor finds electric vehicle battery manufacturer exposed employees to unsafe nickel levels, other mixed metals at Commerce plant

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