OXFORD, OH — Without proper safety measures taken, gases and or vapors in a confined space may overcome a worker or a lack of oxygen may suffocate them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from 2011-2018, there were 1,030 confined space-related workers deaths.
In response to a January 2021 complaint, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated Schneider Electric’s Oxford production facility and found machine operators and maintenance employees entered powder-coating ovens routinely without testing atmospheric conditions or securing natural gas lines and operating machine parts. By doing so, the employer exposed these workers to dangerous asphyxiation hazards and the potential for serious injuries or worse.
The company, which manufactures large busways used for power distribution, faces proposed penalties of $119,757. OSHA determined Schneider Electric exposed workers to multiple safety and health hazards by failing to designate the ovens as permit-required confined spaces that require specific safety procedures before entry. The employer also failed to isolate natural gas lines and mechanical energy – a process known as lockout/tagout – to the ovens during maintenance procedures. OSHA cited the company for 11 serious violations of health and safety standards.
“Confined spaces often expose workers to atmospheric and mechanical hazards,” said OSHA Area Director Ken Montgomery in Cincinnati. “OSHA has specific regulations for implementing required training and safety procedures to protect workers who must enter confined spaces, including atmospheric testing and ensuring equipment and energy sources are disabled before workers enter these spaces.”
OSHA also found the company:
- Did not have an adequate respiratory protection program – including fit training and medical surveillance – for employees required to wear respirators when working with the dust collectors.
- Failed to train employees on the hazards of the powder coat used on the products.
- Allowed epoxy powder coat to accumulate on surfaces exposing workers to methyl imidazole, a potential skin, eye and lung irritant.
- Exposed employees working on top of the ovens to fall hazards of up to 20 feet, by failing to provide fall protection.
- Lacked employee training on safety and health hazards in the facility and required safety procedures.
Based in Andover, Massachusetts, Schneider Electric United States employs more than 150,000 workers nationwide and 250 at the Oxford facility.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its 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.