IR# 94-14
Thursday, March 24, 1994

John Duncan
(415) 703-4590
Joe Kirkbride (Fed-OSHA) (415) 744-6673

Joint State-Federal Investigation Cites K & L Plating in Fatal Workplace Accident in Oakland; Two Agencies Propose Penalties Totaling $741,000

SAN FRANCISCO -- Concluding a joint state-federal investigation, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today cited K & L Plating of Oakland and assessed $741,000 in proposed penalties for violations related to the death of an employee.

Cal-OSHA issued seven willful/serious, 17 serious, one general/regulatory, and four repeat general citations as well as a failure to abate citation against the plant at 10323 Pearmain Street in Oakland and two other facilities operated by the company. The two other facilities are located in Oakland at 902 72nd Avenue and 989 89th Avenue. The citations against K & L Plating included one willful and seven serious violations of federal OSHA's standard which regulates work in confined spaces.

State Department of Industrial Relations Director Lloyd W. Aubry, Jr. said the Cal-OSHA penalties total $552,000. The penalties proposed by federal OSHA total $189,000.

The citations stem from a September 25, 1993 accident at K & L Plating's electroplating operation on Pearmain Street. While an employee cleaned a tank, he was overcome by cyanide gas. A second employee entered the tank to rescue his co-worker. He was overcome by the cyanide gas and died. Several other employees were hospitalized as a result of their involvement in the rescue and cleanup operations. K & L operated at three locations, all of which were inspected and cited.

"The situation at K & L Plating was extraordinary," Aubry said. "This firm operates in a highly hazardous industry, but took very few precautions to protect its employees. Certainly, the number and magnitude of violations is rare."

While California operates its own OSHA-approved health and safety program, federal regulations still apply when they are more stringent than state standards. At the time of the accident at K & L Plating, Cal-OSHA had not yet adopted OSHA's confined space standard. OSHA entered the investigation to probe any violations of this standard. Cal-OSHA investigated other aspects of the firm's health and safety program, including toxic waste disposal and employee training.

Federal OSHA's citations for two willful violations of the confined space standard, assessed at $70,000 each, were for failure of the employer to implement measures necessary to prevent unauthorized entry of a confined space; and failure to develop and implement the means, procedures, and practices necessary for safe permit space entry operations, including specifying acceptable entry conditions. The seven serious violations, carrying a $49,000 penalty, related to requirements of the permit-required confined space standard and cited the employer for failure to implement a confined space program designed to protect workers as required.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one in which the employer either knew that a condition constituted a violation or was aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to correct it. A serious violation occurs when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

Cal-OSHA issued seven willful/serious, seventeen serious, one general/regulatory, and four repeat general citations as well as a failure to abate citation, carrying total penalties of $552,000. Each willful/serious citation carries a penalty of $60,000, for a total of $420,000. Specifically, these violations were for not having a written emergency action plan, not providing respirators for employees in oxygen-deficient areas, not ensuring at least one employee was trained in first aid and CPR, and not testing areas for oxygen deficiency.

Serious violations cited by Cal-OSHA, with penalties which total $132,000, included no proper hoisting device to lift an employee out of confined space, no emergency eyewash or shower equipment for employees exposed to corrosive substances, not labeling tanks to indicate their contents as well as precautionary measures, not providing gloves for employees exposed to corrosive substances, and not providing amyl nitrate for employees exposed to cyanide.

The federal citations may be appealed within 15 business days to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in Washington, D.C. and state citations to the Cal-OSHA Appeals Board in Sacramento.

Aubry emphasized the hazard that electroplating and the chemicals used in that work may pose to employees if proper protections are not followed. Cal-OSHA will pay particular attention to these hazards in an upcoming Cal-OSHA Special Emphasis Program in the electroplating industry, he said.

As a result of the accident at K & L Plating, other agencies launched investigations. The State Labor Commissioner cited the firm for not carrying current workers' compensation insurance, as required by state law. Two citations with penalties totaling $11,000 were issued against K & L Plating for this violation. The citations were upheld on appeal and the penalties paid, Aubry said. An investigation by the Labor Commissioner into alleged overtime and cash pay violations continues.

In addition, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office has opened a criminal investigation.


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