WASHINGTON, DC—Navy shipbuilder, Austal USA, was cited November 18, 2014, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for 12 serious health and safety violations. This was the third citation in the last five years.
The company was cited and fined for a dozen health violations including fall hazards; improperly secured gas cylinders; improper wiring, exposing workers to possible electrical shock, and other electrical hazards; failure to prevent accidental machine startup; improper machine guards exposing workers to potential amputations, puncture and being caught in machines; failing to properly store and label hazardous materials. Some of the most concerning issues is the overexposure to copper fumes while welding, along with overexposure to aluminum dust. Fines totaled more than $40,000.
Austal USA, is the U.S. subsidiary of the Australian company Austal, LLC. The company builds the Independence Variant of the LCS Class high-speed for the U.S. Navy.
“The government expects that contractors, such as Austal, should not only deliver a good product, but also conduct operations in a safe manner,” said Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile, in a press release issued by OSHA. “The lack of attention to safety and health issues unnecessarily exposed employees to hazards at the Mobile facility, and these hazards need to be addressed and controlled throughout the shipbuilding process.”
“We have been saying for years that there are serious safety concerns in that shipyard,” said Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO. “These are some of the most egregious violations that are putting workers at risk right now, but, also down the road. The company is failing to provide proper ventilation allowing workers to be overexposed to copper fumes and aluminum dust. That failure can lead to illnesses later in life. We’ve had reports of numerous workers experiencing chronic respiratory issues, headaches, and nose bleeds. And, workers are being fired for missing work because they can’t get rid of these respiratory and flu like symptoms. A quick look at the Safety data sheets related to the potential health hazards from being exposed to these materials at Austal is alarming. Flu & pneumonia like symptoms, chronic respiratory issues, memory loss, pulmonary fibrosis, kidney problems and cancer are some of the most distressing health effects.”
The Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO was contacted by workers seeking a union at the shipyard a few years ago and has been conducting an organizing campaign through their Mobile Metal Trades Council.
Austal receives billions dollars from their Navy contract and has received more than $100 million in funding from the state of Alabama. “With all of the government funding that this foreign company receives there is no excuse for ignoring basic health and safety laws,” said Ault.
The Metal Trades Department is a trade department of the AFL-CIO. It was chartered in 1908 to coordinate negotiating, organizing and legislative efforts of affiliated metalworking and related crafts and trade unions. Seventeen national and international unions are affiliated with the MTD today. More than 100,000 workers in private industry and federal establishments work under contracts negotiated by MTD Councils. Workers retain membership in their own trade unions.