OSHA: Next move is up to Mueller

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

FULTON – Mueller Industries may not have to pay the entire fine slapped on it by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – if the company successfully appeals it.
“They have the right to appeal,” said OSHA spokesman Mike Wald. “One scenario could be that they accept the fine and pay it, which is our preference. Or they can appeal it.”
On Monday, OSHA charged Mueller with 128 safety violations at its Fulton operation and fined the Memphis-based company $683,000.
The fine follows an OSHA investigation of the July 29 fire and explosion at Mueller Copper Tube in Fulton that killed Phillip Cason Hosch, a worker from Alabama, and injured two other workers.
The company has 15 days to appeal the ruling.
In an appeal, both sides would take their case to a judge, who would determine the amount the company would have to pay.
John Hansen, Mueller’s president of manufacturing operations, said the company is reviewing the most recent citations and will meet with OSHA to discuss them in the coming weeks.
Wald said the amount of the fine announced Monday is not unusual.
“What’s unusual is that they have 128 violations, and some of them are repeat violations,” Wald said.
On Monday, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels said “Mueller Industries subsidiaries’ dangerous practices exposed workers to a variety of hazards that ultimately took one worker’s life.”
“Our goal is to ensure the safety and health of the company’s workers,” Wald said. “The goal is to have zero violations, of course.”
Cason was the third worker to die at the facility since April 2008.
Memphis-based Mueller owns Mueller Copper Tube in Fulton, along with three other plants – Mueller Casting, Mueller Copper Fittings and Mueller Packaging. Mueller Copper Tube is the oldest and largest of the four plants in the complex.
And Mueller Industries has crossed paths with OSHA before over safety issues.
OSHA records show that the Mueller Copper Tube plant in Fulton has paid at least $35,000 in fines since 2002, after OSHA found several serious safety violations on two separate visits to the facility.
Eleven violations were noted in a 2002 report following a complaint, and Mueller paid $9,700 in fines.
Ten violations were found in May 2008, a month after an accident killed William Creel, 39, of Golden, when his safety harness got caught up in machinery 30 feet in the air.
The company was fined $25,425.
In September 2008, Xavier Sanders, 30, a roofing contractor from Arkansas, was killed after stepping through the roof of the plant and falling 40 feet. An investigation revealed the safety gear he was wearing to prevent such a fall failed.
There is no record of a fine following that investigation.
Mueller operations in other states also have been charged with safety and health violations.
Its Covington, Tenn., plant, Mueller Fittings Co., has been fined seven times for $16,000 since 1995.
The company’s Lincoln Brass facilities in Jacksboro and Waynesboro, Tenn., have paid more than $3,100 in fines since 2004.
In the latest OSHA charge, more than 90 of the 128 citations were levied against Mueller Copper Tube. OSHA findings included failure to guard machinery, exposure to electrical shock, unsafe electrical equipment and practices, and failure to label hazardous chemicals.
Mueller Copper Tube also received the bulk of the fines – $413,500.
Mueller Fittings’ 22 citations included unsafe propane storage and handling, unsafe material storage and likelihood of exposure to blood-borne pathogens. It faces $166,500 in fines.
Mueller Packaging was issued 12 citations, including unsafe crane operation, failing to lock out sources of hazardous energy and electrical hazards. OSHA has recommended $103,000 in fines.
Before receiving the citations, Hansen said his company already was working with OSHA.
“Mueller undertook measures to address many of the suggestions and concerns shared by OSHA,” he said Monday. “We will continue to further enhance our safety program by improving upon our work practices, training and encouraging the valuable input of our employees.”

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

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