U.S. safety officials on Friday cited Lockheed Corp.'s plant in Burbank for 440 alleged violations of safety and health-related record-keeping rules, and said the aerospace giant should be fined $1.5 million.
The action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration came after a four-month agency investigation of the plant. The investigation was prompted by workers’ claims that dozens of Lockheed employees had become ill from exposure to hazardous substances at the plant.
In investigating Lockheed, OSHA reviewed the complaints mainly to see whether Lockheed was following safety guidelines, and not to determine whether certain workers had, in fact, become sick from excessive exposure to hazardous substances, said OSHA spokesman Frank Kane in Washington.
But Frank Strasheim, OSHA’s regional director in San Francisco, said in a statement that the “very nature and sheer volume” of alleged safety violations that OSHA did find prompted the agency to send inspectors back for a “wall-to-wall” inspection of the huge Burbank plant, which employs about 14,000 people in more than 200 buildings.
The plant is where Lockheed is building the top-secret stealth jet fighter designed to evade enemy radar. Lockheed has 15 working days to accept OSHA’s findings, pay the penalties and fix the alleged problems, or it can contest the citations in front of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in Washington.
In essence, OSHA alleged that Lockheed kept poor records about which workers became sick or injured at the plant. The agency also alleged that Lockheed failed to properly mark which chemicals and other materials were dangerous and to adequately warn workers how to safely use them.
The citations were not unexpected. OSHA officials in Los Angeles, who conducted the investigation, had told Lockheed in February that they had found problems at the Burbank plant and might formally cite the company, which is headquartered in Calabasas.
The proposed fine would be the largest levied by OSHA since it assumed responsibility for enforcing job safety and health laws in California’s private sector in July, 1987. OSHA took the role after Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed a budget appropriation for the state’s own private-sector workplace safety and health program.
‘A Serious Matter’
Dale Daniels, executive vice president of Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co., the division that runs the plant, said he viewed each of the allegations “as a serious matter. But I have to examine each one on its own merit before I can tell you whether I’m going to contest any, or part, or all” of the citations.
Overall, he said, “I disagree that we just inadvertently or otherwise exposed” workers to hazards.
Timothy A. Larson, an Encino lawyer who is representing the Lockheed workers in their lawsuit against the company, said OSHA’s announcement “essentially verifies what my clients have been telling me for the past two years, that Lockheed was an unsafe and hazardous environment” in which to work.
Don Nakamoto, spokesman for District 727 of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 7,200 Lockheed workers in the Los Angeles area, commended OSHA’s action. But he said the union also wants independent safety experts to be permanently assigned to the plant “to see that all employees, including management, are properly trained in the area of health and safety.”
OSHA classifies safety violations in two main ways. “Willful” violations are those in which an employer either knew that a condition was a violation, or was aware that a dangerous condition existed and made “no reasonable effort” to correct it.
“Serious” violations are those in which there is “substantial probability” that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
In Lockheed’s case, OSHA alleged:
- Two-hundred-fifty-one willful violations of OSHA rules that govern how a company should record injuries and illnesses at its plants.
- Eighty-eight willful violations of OSHA’s “hazard communication standard,” which, since 1985, has required employers to tell workers about potential dangers of certain materials and proper safeguards to be taken.
OSHA alleged that Lockheed “willfully mislabeled or failed to label many in-plant containers of chemicals,” and also failed to include hazard warnings on material safety data sheets, which are supposed to identify toxic materials and spell out worker-exposure limits.
- Two willful violations that accused Lockheed of failing to provide protective gloves to workers handling a hazardous chemical (methylenedianiline, known as MDA) and with “overexposing workers to asbestos.”
- Ninety-nine serious and less-than-serious violations in which Lockheed failed to meet safety rules concerning protection of workers’ eyes and ears, fire prevention and the guarding of machines, among other things.
The workers who have sued Lockheed or filed workers’ compensation claims contend that they suffer from skin rashes, headaches, memory loss and cancer, among other things.
Many of the workers also claim that they got ill after handling hazardous “composites,” which are lightweight yet strong plastic-like materials that are increasingly used in aircraft construction. Composites are particularly essential to stealth planes because the materials do not reflect radar waves as readily as metals, making the planes harder to detect.
At a U.S. Senate hearing earlier this month, medical experts said that composite materials frequently used in the aerospace industry pose a “widespread” health threat to workers exposed to them.