Company and consultants go out of their way to obstruct OSHA inspection

The safety consulting firm, Compliance Professionals, Inc. needs to revise its website. The firm boasts of its skill at developing workplace safety policies and manuals, and its ability to help a company deal with an OSHA inspection.

“OSHA just showed up…” they tease. We can make “this go away for less cost than a part-time, minimum wage file clerk.” Big bold letters on its website say:

We’ve NEVER had an existing client successfully sued or fined…and we don’t intend on starting with you!

That’s the part they need to revise—about never being fined.

A federal judge fined both Compliance Professionals and Martin Foundry Company for their actions related to a recent OSHA inspection. In May, they were found in civil contempt and criminal contempt of court and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in penalties.

Records from the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri (here, here, here) lay out in detail what occurred when inspectors from OSHA’s Kansas City area office tried to conduct an inspection at Martin Foundry. It started in March 2015 when OSHA received information from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The state agency notified OSHA that a Martin Foundry employee had a blood lead level (BLL) that exceeded 50 ug/dL. (Experts recommend that adults with a BLL greater than 30 ug/dL be removed from occupational exposure. CDC considers a BLL greater than 10 ug/dL to be elevated.)

In mid-March, OSHA inspector Brenda Garcia went to Martin Foundry to conduct an inspection. The documents explain:

  • She met first with Darrell Stone (vice president and co-owner), Julie Stone (co-owner), and Robert Lockett III of Compliance Professionals Inc. They said they wouldn’t permit the inspection unless Garcia revealed the name of the lead-poisoned employee. Garcia refused to do so and left the establishment. She returned a couple of weeks later, and again was denied access to the facility to conduct an inspection.
  • The Labor Department sought and received a warrant to conduct the inspection. Garcia and another OSHA inspector, Louis Walling, presented the warrant on April 7. Robert Lockett III with Compliance Professionals interfered in Garcia’s efforts to take air samples. Her affidavit says:

“Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) Walling and I confirmed with both Lockett and Stone that they were refusing to allow the inspection to continue even though we had a warrant. I contacted my supervisor and was told to leave the facility.”

Later that day, OSHA inspectors Garcia, Walling and another inspector, Kim Robinson, returned to Martin Foundry with three federal marshals. One of the marshals explained to co-owners Darrell and Julie Stone that they could be in contempt of court if they didn’t allow OSHA to conduct the inspection.  Garcia’s affidavit explains what happened after the marshals left the premises:

  • Mr. Stone restricted where the CSHOs were allowed to go within the facility and only allowed the CSHOs to sample in specific locations. The CSHOs were not allowed to walk through the facility to observe the employees work and select sites to sample based on the work and the observed conditions.
  • The next day, the inspectors returned to Martin Foundry before 6 am. Another employee of Compliance Professionals, Ann Fox, was on-site. The inspectors noticed that the two brass furnaces, which are known to contain lead components, were not operating. [Editor: Perhaps shut down intentionally?]
  • The inspectors attached air sampling monitors on three employees. Ann Fox prohibited an inspector from following one of the employees into the grinding area.
  • William Alpert, also of Compliance Professionals, Inc., demanded:

“that CSHO Garcia show him the section in 29 CFR 1910.1025 which gave CSHOs the right to see the grinding area. Darrell Stone stood in front of CSHO Robinson and would not allow the CSHOs to go in any area outside of the furnace room.”

An important and informative part of many inspections is interviewing workers. But when the OSHA inspectors attempted to interview employees of Martin Foundry, the workers said they could only be interviewed when representatives of Compliance Professionals were present. Inspector Garcia’s affidavit noted:

“Alpert, Fox, and Stone did not allow CSHOs Garcia, Walling or Robinson full access to employees or allow them to inspect any part of the facility except the furnace room. CSHO Garcia notified the OSHA Kansas City Area Office of the interference and was instructed to return to the office. “

The following day when the OSHA inspectors tried to see the furnace room, the company and consultants interfered. Darrell Stone only allowed inspector Garcia to see the furnace room.

He “walked CSHO Garcia around the outside of the facility; he did not allow her to walk through the facility.”

Another document described how far the consultants would go to impede the OSHA inspection. Based on sworn statements from Martin Foundry employees:

“…prior to OSHA being allowed to complete its on-site inspection, there had been alterations to the workplace, including Respondent Ann Fox wiping down a picnic table used by employees to eat their lunch – a picnic table that was located inside the foundry and possibly contaminated with lead dust – and Respondent Ann Fox cleaning the interior of an employee refrigerator in which employees stored their lunches, similarly located inside of the foundry and possibly contaminated with lead. The full extent of the alterations to the workplace are unknown at this time, and it may be impossible to know the full extent of the alterations done or caused to be done by Respondents.”

The affidavits from the three OSHA inspectors and other evidence led the judge to conclude:

“The actions of Martin Foundry, Darrell Stone, Robert Lockett, III, Ann Fox and William Alpert and their contumacious conduct has prevented the inspection and investigation of the workplace of Martin Foundry Company for possible employee overexposures to lead and has frustrated the Secretary of Labor’s enforcement responsibilities. The acts and conduct of Martin Foundry, Darrell Stone, Robert Lockett, III, Ann Fox and William Alpert as set forth herein constitute disobedience and resistance to the Administrative Search Warrant, a lawful Order of the Court.” [emphasis added]

This was not OSHA’s first experience with Martin Foundry. Just last year the company received citations for eight serious violations, all but one involving OSHA’s lead standard. Among other things, workers in the plant were exposed to lead at levels above OSHA’s permissible exposure limit and the company failed to provide appropriate respiratory protection and protective clothes. Martin Foundry agreed to correct the problems and was assessed a $9,400 penalty.

Remarkably, during this most recent inspection, OSHA inspector Garcia noted:

“…I observed that there was no separate eating area. The employees had a picnic table located near the grinding area to use for eating lunch. This condition was previously cited as a result of the October 2013 inspection.”

On May 20, US district judge Beth Phillips ordered Robert Lockett, III, Ann Fox and William Alpert of Compliance Professionals to each pay a $2,000 penalty for criminal contempt. They were also ordered, along with Martin Foundry, to pay nearly $11,000 for the costs incurred by the Labor Department in OSHA’s effort to inspect the facility. I’m glad to see their misbehavior, including wasting the taxpayers’ money, has a price tag.

For the record, Compliance Professionals, Inc. has yet to change its website. It still says:

We’ve NEVER had an existing client successfully sued or fined…and we don’t intend on starting with you!

Ultimately an OSHA inspection took place at Martin Foundry. The agency still has a couple of months to issue citations. At a minimum, OSHA should throw the book at Martin Foundry for the repeat violation of failing to provide a clean area for workers to eat. Ingesting lead dust is a sure way to get lead poisoned.  And, if Martin Foundry decides to hire another safety consultant, here’s a piece of advice: Select one that is focused on eliminating hazards rather than one that is expert at avoiding OSHA and obstructing the agency’s authority.

 

 

Comments

  1. #1 james griffin
    July 16, 2015

    Obstruction of Justice (administrative; 18 USC 1505) carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment. If you were really serious you’d be hopping mad that none of the consultants or foundry management are spending even a day in jail.

  2. #2 JustaTech
    July 16, 2015

    James: Given how infrequently OSHA even manages to fine companies, I think we’re all a bit cynical about prosecution for obstructing an inspection. (Should the foundry be prosecuted? Yes? Will they? Probably not.)

    This being America, I would not be at all surprised if after OSHA throws the book at Martin Foundry, Martin doesn’t turn around and sue Compliance Professionals for breach of contract.