BOSS WATCH: 4/5 - 4/12
Updated On: May 13, 2024


By JACOB MORRISON | April 15, 2024


Illegal activities of Southern Bosses for the weeks between Friday, April 5 and Friday, April 12


—FLORIDA KILLERS—

As he had many other days, the morning shift welder arrived at 5 a.m. to work at St. John’s Ship Building Inc. in Palatka on Aug. 28, 2023. Tasked with doing some fabrication work in a 4-foot by 8-foot space in a ship’s hull, the employee began work unaware that fatal suffocation would soon end his life. 

Less than two hours after entering the ship, a supervisor found the unconscious welder and signaled for help, only to fall unconscious as well. A third employee appeared, alerting EMS and the Palatka Fire Department who soon transported all three workers to a nearby hospital. Despite emergency treatment, the welder died from a lack of oxygen. The supervisor and the third worker received medical treatment and were released.

Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined St. John’s Ship Building exposed workers to oxygen deficiency by sending the welder into a confined space without first testing the air for oxygen content. The presence of welding gas in the space created an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. 

“Following proper maritime industry protocols could have prevented this worker from losing his life,” explained OSHA Area Office Director Scott Tisdale in Jacksonville, Florida. “St. John’s Ship Building must perform hazard assessments and implement safety procedures to ensure a tragedy like this does not recur. Every employer should make health and safety a core value in their workplaces.” 

In addition to a lack of oxygen, OSHA investigators found the shipbuilder also exposed workers to struck-by and crushing hazards by failing to conduct annual inspections of six cranes. The agency cited the company with four serious violations and has proposed $55,539 in penalties, an amount set by federal statute.  

St. John’s Ship Building Inc.’s operations are located near the St. Johns River in Palatka. Founded in 2006, the company has about 120 temporary and full-time employees. Since 2019, OSHA has inspected the company twice and found violations related to noise exposure for both inspections.

The company has contested the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 1,030 U.S. workers died from 2011 to 2018 from workplace injuries related to confined spaces.

—TEXAS POLLUTERS—

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized a settlement with Sasol Chemicals (Sasol) over alleged violations of the chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act at the company’s facility in Westlake, Louisiana. Under the settlement, Sasol will pay more than $1.4 million in civil penalties and correct violations related to an October 2022 fire at the facility, as well as those found during a compliance evaluation in 2021. The facility is adjacent to the Mossville community, which Administrator Michael Regan visited on his Journey to Justice tour.

“The Mossville community has organized and fought for generations to protect their families from environmental impacts to people’s health and EPA is ready to build on that work by holding companies like Sasol accountable,” said Regional Administrator Dr. Earthea Nance. “Sasol and other industrial polluters must prioritize the safety of the fenceline community and their workers by following all chemical accident-prevention laws.”

Residents of the historic community of Mossville, founded by formerly enslaved people in the 1790s, live on the fence line of Sasol Chemicals and close to many other industrial facilities. Families here experience a daily pollution burden from these facilities, and many have been affected by cancer and other serious diseases. Administrator Michael Regan visited Mossville and other environmental justice communities on his Journey to Justice tour to listen to their stories and concerns. Through the resolution of this case, EPA is furthering the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing environmental justice by enforcing stronger safety requirements for industrial facilities and requiring new measures to protect communities.

From January through July 2021, EPA conducted a Virtual Partial Compliance Evaluation (VPCE) of the Sasol facility under chemical accident prevention requirements of the Clean Air Act, including Section 112(r) and the General Duty Clause. On October 15, 2022—during the process to settle alleged violations found during the evaluation—a fire occurred at Sasol that resulted in a shelter-in-place order for the Westlake area. The settlement announced today addresses violations from the evaluation and the fire.

Under the settlement, Sasol will pay a civil penalty of $1,441,712.00. Sasol will also undertake several actions to resolve alleged violations, such as improving systems and procedures to assure timely completion of the Process Hazardous Analysis recommendations, improving inspections and procedures to maintain mechanical integrity of process equipment, addressing and resolving overdue compliance audits findings, improving safety systems designed to detect potential hazards, updating written and operating procedures to ensure the safe conducting of work activities, and improving implementation practices of operating procedures at the facility.

The injunctive relief in the settlement aligns with new amendments to the Risk Management Program announced on  March 1, 2024, that require stronger measures for prevention, preparedness, and public transparency. The “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule” protects the health and safety of all communities by requiring industry to prevent accidental releases of dangerous chemicals that could cause deaths and injuries, damage property and the environment, or require surrounding communities to evacuate or shelter-in-place. The rule requires regulated facilities to perform a safer technologies and alternatives analysis, and in some cases, facilities will be required to implement reliable safeguard measures. Under this settlement, Sasol will develop and implement safe work practices for the pressure testing of related process equipment to avoid further chemical accidental releases like the fire and shelter-in-place that occurred on October 15, 2022.

Improving compliance with Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act Amendments is part of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative of chemical accident risk reduction. Under Section 112(r), EPA publishes regulations and guidance for chemical accident prevention at facilities that use certain hazardous substances. These regulations and guidance are contained in the Risk Management Program rule, which requires facilities that use extremely hazardous substances to develop a Risk Management Plan which:

  • identifies the potential effects of a chemical accident,

  • identifies steps the facility is taking to prevent an accident, and

  • spells out emergency response procedures should an accident occur.

—GEORGIA ENDANGERERS—

For the second time in less than a year, federal workplace safety inspectors have found a global electric vehicle battery manufacturer exposing employees to serious safety and health hazards at its Commerce plant, after workers suffered potentially permanent respiratory damage in an October 2023 lithium battery fire.

After investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration learned of the fire at SK Battery America Inc., they determined the company failed to train its employees on how to protect themselves adequately in the toxic atmosphere that left multiple workers injured. 

The agency cited SK Battery for five serious violations after finding the company did the following: 

  • Exposed workers to inhalation hazards, including hydrofluoric acid vapors produced in lithium battery fires, by failing to establish a complete emergency response plan.

  • Did not ensure their staffing agency, Moveret Inc., who supplied workers at the site, made their employees aware of the hazards associated with lithium battery fires.

  • Failed to train on-site emergency responders and members of the fire brigade on hazards associated with lithium battery fires and equip them to treat employees exposed to such hazards. 

  • Did not train workers on hazardous chemicals in their work areas and a means to protect themselves from lithium battery fires.

  • Failed to annually fit-test workers required to utilize tight-fitting facepiece respirators. 

OSHA has assessed the company $77,200 in proposed penalties, an amount set by federal statute.

In December 2023, OSHA cited SK Battery for exposing employees working with cobalt, nickel, and total dust to levels above the Permissible Exposure Limit and failing to institute feasible administrative or engineering controls, among other hazards. The December 2023 inspection also found the employer exposed workers to high levels of occupational noise and failed to implement a monitoring program and audiometric testing.

Another inspection resulted in a citation that was issued in January 2024 for a hazard associated with the company’s energy control program. The company is contesting these findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

“On multiple occasions in less than a year, we have found SK Battery America failing in their responsibility to meet required federal standards designed to help every worker end their shift safely,” said OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East. “While emerging industries bring innovation and employment opportunities to our communities, they must also ensure that the safety of the people they employ is their priority. When employers fail to provide safe and healthful workplaces, OSHA will hold them accountable.”

A subsidiary of SK On, SK Battery America Inc. employs about 3,100 people at two battery manufacturing plants in Commerce. SK On is part of the Seoul-based SK Group, South Korea’s second-largest conglomerate with companies operating in the energy, advanced materials, biopharmaceuticals and digital industries.

—DISHONORABLE MENTIONS—

  • Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division found a South Carolina home healthcare services provider - Circle of Love Home Care - misclassified workers as independent contractors and, by doing so, paid employees straight-time rates for all hours worked over 40 instead of the time-and-a-half premium for overtime hours as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Department recovered $37,340 for 35 workers.

  • D.R. Horton, Inc., the nation’s largest homebuilder, and its subsidiary, D.R. Horton, Inc. – Birmingham (collectively “Horton”), have resolved allegations that they violated requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) relating to stormwater discharges associated with construction activity at 16 locations in Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Horton will implement a comprehensive stormwater compliance program at the many hundreds of home construction sites they operate within EPA Region 4 and will pay a civil penalty of $400,000, a portion of which will be directed to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the State of South Carolina, who joined this settlement. Horton will also commit to spend at least $400,000 on a Supplemental Environmental Project to improve water quality by decreasing pollutant loads in stormwater runoff through increases in stormwater infiltration.


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