December 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
29°F
test

Republic steel faces possible $563,000 fine

LORAIN — Safety at the Republic Engineered Products steel plant is being questioned.

The company is facing a proposed $563,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over repeated violations at its Lorain plant. In addition to the fine, Republic has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program, subjecting it to increased scrutiny.

Dr. David Michaels, an OSHA assistant secretary of labor, said in a news release Monday that Republic has a long record of safety violations that have included injuries and fatalities.

“There is no excuse for Republic Engineered Products to continue to neglect its workers’ safety,” Michaels said. “It needs to make a serious effort to comply with common-sense regulations to protect its employees.”

The fine is related to a November accident at the Lorain plant, at 1827 E. 28th St., in which a worker fell nine feet and fractured his pelvis, according to the news release. Last year, the Lorain plant has been cited for 13 violations and fined $143,000. Since 1990, the plant was cited for 76 violations during 25 inspections. Excluding Lorain, the Canton-based company — which has locations in Massillion, Gary, Ind., Blaisdell, N.Y., and Hamilton, Ontario — has been inspected 53 times resulting in 124 violations.

On Feb. 16, Arthur Smith, 57, of Lorain, was crushed by a hydraulic door on a utility truck at Republic’s Canton plant and died at the hospital, according to a coroner’s office spokeswoman. Smith was a contract worker for Superior Environmental Solutions, an industrial cleaning service.

“It would appear as though there’s some indifference to worker safety if they’re being cited for the same sorts of violations at all of their plants,” said Rhonda Burke, a spokeswoman for OSHA’s Midwest office, in an interview. “Something isn’t being well-communicated amongst the workers of requirements to meet those standards to be safe.”

Since 2005, Republic has been owned by two Mexican companies, Grupo Simec and its parent company, ICH. Grupo bills itself as the largest producer of special bar quality steel — a refined steel used for aircraft and automobiles — to Mexico and the US. ICH, with an annual gross revenue of nearly $1.7 billion, is tied for 18th in the fastest growing industries in Latin America, according to Bloomberg Business Week. While its parent companies are in Mexico, Republic spokesman Ken Braun said they aren’t absentee owners and are committed to safety. He blamed the violations on the age of the approximately 100-year-old plant — which employs about 500 — and downsizing.

“There haven’t been profits (put) ahead of worker safety,” Braun said. “We have employees that from time to time forget what they have been trained to do.”

Braun said a separate company has been hired to audit operations in Lorain including safety and that Republic plans to meet with OSHA regarding the fine. He wouldn’t say if Republic would contest the fine.

Burke said the fine might be lowered but, “I don’t think it will be reduced greatly.” With about 50 inspectors for a state of
11.5 million people, Burke said. OSHA relies on tips from whistleblowers rather than random inspections. However, Republic’s placement in the enforcement program will likely mean a greater OSHA presence in Lorain. Burke said fines are designed to ensure compliance rather than raise money.

“The ultimate goal of OSHA is for workers to be safe and for companies to implement safe work practices,” she said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.