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Shipyard exposes workers to toxic lead paint

When it comes to some diseases or medical conditions, some employers may plead ignorance. A story from last year in Wisconsin involving workers exposed to toxic levels of gases from roasted coffee might have been such a situation. The chemical which caused the issue, is the same one that led to the deadly condition known as "popcorn lung," was little-known and not well understood in the coffee roasting business.

Other workplace hazards are less surprising. Asbestos has long been known to produce mesothelioma. Similarly, lead has long been recognized as a toxic chemical and that exposure to it can lead to a number of dangerous medical conditions including brain damage.

There are a great many regulations that deal with lead paint and how it should be treated. There is no excuse for an employer to not understand the risks and ensure that proper safety procedures are implemented for workers handling lead-contaminated items.

But a shipyard in Superior, Wisconsin seems to have failed to recognize this danger and has been fined by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) almost $1.4 million dollars after exposing numerous workers to lead.

The agency found 14 willful egregious health violations and an additional five other willful violations. The shipyard was performing renovations on a ship built in the 1950s, which contained substantial quantities of lead paint. The deadline for completion was such that the shipyard decided to cut corners and risk the health of its workers to get the job done on time.

There are far too many cases like this, where companies take on jobs on unrealistic timelines or at too cheap a price, leading to a constant pressure to cut other costs to make the deal profitable. This typically means overworking employees, using untrained or ill-equipped workers or skipping necessary safety training or procedures.

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