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OSHA cites steel plant over safety, probes whistleblower retaliation

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A St. Louis-based steel plant is facing $366,300 in proposed fines and a whistleblower investigation by federal regulators related to continued workplace safety violations.

Two years after a worker waselectrocuted at a steel plant owned by St. Louis-based St. Louis Cold Drawn Inc., Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found the company continued to expose its workforce, mostly Asian immigrants with limited English-speaking skills, to daily amputation, electrical and other hazards, according to a news release issued last week by the agency.

OSHA’s investigation found that a non-English-speaking production line operator suffered a finger amputation because the machine lacked adequate guarding in September 2013. In 2014, another worker experienced severe lacerations when he touched moving machine parts, according to the release.

During the investigation, one employee alleged that management fired him after he spoke to OSHA officials and another said the company terminated him for alerting management to safety hazards, which led the agency to open a whistleblower investigation.

OSHA cited the company for two willful violations for inadequate machine safety guards and inadequate drainage during wet processes, according to the citations. The agency also cited the employer for seven repeat and 22 serious violations, including insufficient crane inspections, faulty head protection and exposure to fall hazards.

“Any hazards at the company are inexcusable, especially following OSHA’s intervention after a worker died by electrocution in 2013,” Bill McDonald, OSHA’s area director in St. Louis, said in a statement. “St. Louis Cold Drawn continues to exploit its non-English-proficient workforce by exposing them to unsafe working conditions. The company needs to make fundamental workplace changes to comply with the law and protect employees.”

Steve McNair, President of St. Louis Cold Drawn, said in an emailed statement that the company only recently received the proposed citations and is reviewing them. The company has already requested an informal conference with OSHA to discuss the citations, which the company believes are without merit, particularly the willful citations made “completely without justification,” Mr. McNair said.

The company also strongly objected to the investigator’s opinion that it exploited its workers, particularly those who are immigrants, he said.

“No employee of the company has ever been terminated for reporting a safety violation or for speaking with an OSHA representative,” he said in the statement. “One such claim made by a terminated employee has already been withdrawn and the other claims have still not been fully investigated by OSHA.”