OSHA Cites Bridge Painter for Second Instance of Lead Exposure

March 29, 2013

828721_pintor.jpgPanthera Painting, a Pennsylvania-based painting company, has been cited with nearly 40 violations recently, including 11 repeat and 14 willful safety violations. Lead exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins warn Panthera employees and their families that workers may have been exposed to lead while performing any blasting and repainting projects.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, estimated the penalties to total more than $460,000 from violations found at bridge work sites in Harrisburg, Slatedale, and Slatington. According to an OSHA news release, Panthera has a history of failing to correct hazards and ensure employee safety and health. This resistance leaves all Panthera workers vulnerable to illness and injury that may occur while on the job.

Lead exposure specifically is of high concern among Panthera workers. The company's willful violations, which total more than $365,000 in proposed penalties, are associated with this lead exposure, which is currently above the permissible level. Willful violations are defined as those committed with deliberate, voluntary, or knowing disregard for the law, or with unconcern to worker safety. OSHA also cited the company for failing to adequately monitor employee health in relation to the lead exposure, allowing workers to eat where lead was present, failing to train workers on the hazards of lead exposure, and failing to provide protective gear.

Panthera has been inspected five times in the last five years; four of those inspections resulted in significant citations and fines, with one relating to high levels of lead and other toxic substances. In 2011, Panthera was ordered to pay $130,000 in fines for similar violations, although it entered into an agreement with OSHA to pay only half.

Because of this previous action, and because the company is a subcontractor for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for work involving bridge maintenance, these most recent citations are deemed especially serious. Acute lead exposure is the leading cause of occupational illness in the country, and, unfortunately, the construction industry is among the highest at risk of lead poisoning. Employees exposed to lead may unknowingly bring home the substance on their clothes, boots, tools and body, dangerously exposing partners and children. Lead poisoning is most dangerous in young children, who more easily develop learning disabilities, decreased bone and muscle growth, nerve disorders, and kidney damage.

The repeat violations, which total over $63,000, include the lack of warning signs in lead work areas, failing to provide medical examinations (including blood tests every two months for those exposed), failing to ensure workers shower after each shift, and not notifying employees of the lead monitoring results.

In a similar case in Washington State, a gun range that was undergoing renovations was subject to a federal investigation after many of the workers fell ill from lead poisoning. Workers started showing mysterious symptoms, such as frequent vomiting, severe headaches, tremors, fatigue and lost appetite. Blood tests showed that their lead levels were dangerously excessive; in total, nearly 50 employees had excessive blood lead levels, and 24 workers were suffering from acute lead exposure. One worker had blood lead levels more than three times higher than the state standard. At least three wives and two children tested positive for excessive lead.

This incident resulted in a lawsuit, brought by the employees who allege that the gun range violated safety laws, improperly disposed of the lead, and severely sickened employees. Many argue that they were never given any instruction about how to stay safe from lead exposure, were never told to wear protective gear, and were not given a decontamination area. The suit is currently ongoing.

Like Panthera, the gun range was previously subject to investigations concerning lead exposure and consequently fined. Companies that show such blatant disregard for the law, as well as worker safety and health, must be held responsible for their negligence. Employers are required by law to provide workers with a safe environment, and putting worker health in jeopardy is unacceptable.

If you believe you or your family was exposed to lead while on the job, you may be entitled to compensation through a lawsuit with your employer. Lead poisoning lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are currently reviewing cases involving toxic substance exposure, and will ensure you receive the best representation and largest settlement possible.