WARREN, OH ‒ U.S. Department of Labor investigators examining the cause of a March 2023 explosion and fire at a Warren auto battery manufacturing plant and investigating other safety complaints identified 19 safety and health violations after opening four separate inspections in less than a two-week period.Inspections by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration at Ultium Cells LLC led the agency to cite the company for 17 serious and two other-than-serious safety and health violations. OSHA inspectors found the company exposed workers to machine and chemical hazards by failing to use and train workers on safety and emergency response procedures. The agency also learned Ultium Cells did not comply with federally required safety standards for the use of personal protective equipment, including respirators. The inspections took place between April 24 and May 5, 2023, at the plant, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution to mass produce battery cells to help expand production of electric vehicles in North America.OSHA has proposed $270,091 in penalties and issued the company a hazard alert letter asking them to voluntarily reduce accumulations of metal dust and protect employees from unsafe metal dust exposure.“Ultium Cells’ technology and advanced manufacturing facilities are part of a new and emerging field but workplace safety standards — such as machine guarding, personal protective equipment and emergency response training — have been the law for decades,” said OSHA Area Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland. “The company’s focus on the future must include an emphasis on workplace safety to ensure the well-being of its employees.”Specifically, OSHA inspectors found the company failed to do the following:Periodically test energy control procedures for various equipment.Install required machine guarding.Train workers in hazardous energy control procedures.Provide safe access and egress for packing employees, who were exposed to trip and fall hazards.Train workers in emergency response operations, including the release of hazardous N-Methylpyrrolidone. Coordinate emergency responses with an incident response system.Provide respiratory protection from exposure to hazardous chemicals that can cause numbness, dizziness and nausea.Train workers on the physical and health risks of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace.Provide safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals.Store chemicals in labeled containers.Select appropriate personal protective equipment and provide training on the use of PPE for potential exposure to chemical hazards, such as electrolyte and dried coating material. Provide eye wash stations, emergency showers and hand protection.Inform employees of their right to report workplace injuries and illnesses.Allow an employee to freely report an injury.Additionally, OSHA currently has one open inspection at the Warren facility following a June 27, 2023, fire and three inquiries, including a report that the company exposed workers to airborne chemicals in the cathode mixing area after a pressure gauge failed on Aug. 20, 2023, resulted in battery slurry leaking onto the plant floor.Since the Warren facility began battery cell production in August 2022, OSHA has cited the plant 11 times. The company also has facilities under construction in Michigan and Tennessee.The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Learn more about OSHA, lockout/tagout procedures, hazard communication procedures, and the use of respiratory protection.
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