Spirit AeroSystems faces nearly $200,000 in OSHA fines for alleged carcinogen exposure

Wichita’s largest employer is facing nearly $200,000 in fines after government officials alleged the aircraft manufacturer exposed employees to a substance that can cause cancer.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Spirit AeroSystems for exposing employees to hexavalent chromium. The agency found six violations that led to just over $193,000 in penalties.

“OSHA alleges the company failed to implement feasible engineering controls to limit employee exposure to hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, and conduct periodic monitoring of employee exposure,” the Department of Labor said in a news release. “OSHA also alleges the company failed to establish protocols to ensure that employees remove contaminated personal protective equipment and clothing before leaving the work area.

“OSHA also alleges the company failed to prevent exposure to hexavalent chromium during aircraft painting and allowed the accumulation of hexavalent chromium on surfaces and failed to ensure that employee respirators fit properly.”

Chromium metal is sometimes added to steel to “increase hardenability and corrosion resistance,” the agency said. Exposure to the carcinogen typically occurs during “hot work,” such as welding on stainless steel and other alloy steels that contain chromium. Hexavalent chromium compounds are also used as pigments or as an anti-corrosive agent in paints and other products, and can be used to electroplate chromium onto metal parts.

The compound is known to cause cancer, and inhaling it can also cause asthma and damage to the kidneys, liver and respiratory system, OSHA said.

Spirit has 15 business days to comply with the citations and penalties, request an informal conference with OSHA or to contest the findings, the agency said.

“Spirit AeroSystems has received notice from OSHA of citations regarding sanding of parts treated with hexavalent chromium (HC) in one area of production conducted on third shift at the Wichita site,” the company said in a statement. “Spirit disputes the accuracy of some of OSHA’s findings detailed in these citations and will exercise its right to an informal conference with OSHA to discuss these issues and seek reductions of the penalties and classifications of these citations.

“Spirit does not believe any of its employees have been exposed to improper levels of HC. Nonetheless, Spirit has already begun taking steps to correct many of the issues described in the citations and looks forward to collaborating with OSHA to ensure its compliance with all OSHA regulations moving forward. The safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority, and we remain committed to driving an ever-stronger safety culture at Spirit.”

The citations include allegations that Spirit failed to monitor chromium levels after a previous violation, that painters were exposed to up to 44 times the permissible exposure level of airborne chromium concentration, and that facial hair on some employees prevented their respirators from sealing.

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