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Wisconsin shipyard faces litigation under Safe Place statute

In a recent post, we mentioned a shipyard in Superior, Wisconsin which is facing hefty fines following an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which resulted in 14 violations. As we noted, the violations included exposing workers to lead, each instance of which was deemed willful and egregious, as well as asbestos.

The company also apparently failed to monitor employee exposure to lead and to implement a lead compliance program to protect workers from lead exposure. Various other violations were issued as well, including citations related to asbestos. The investigation that led to the citations was opened back in February after multiple complaints were received regarding unsafe working conditions.

Interestingly, OSHA found that the company not only failed to abide by federal safety regulations, but also ignored its own safety manuals and some of its own workers who had expressed concerns. Workers eventually had enough and filed a lawsuit against the company for violating Wisconsin's Safe Place Statute. The company, it was alleged, violated the statute by failing to warn workers about the presence of toxins on the ship and subsequently hiding evidence of seriously high levels of lead.

The Safe Place statute, which we've mentioned before on this blog, imposes an absolute duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect the life, health safety and welfare of employees and to provide a safe workplace. Workers are entitled, under the statute, to receive an increase in workers' compensation benefits when their employer violations the statute. In our next post, we'll look a bit at what some of the case law has to say about the statute and how it impacts workers injured on the job

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