Workers at two Kingspan factories in California have blown the whistle on their working conditions, alleging exposure to hazardous chemicals and indoor air pollution. Kingspan is a $15 billion corporation that makes “green” building materials, including insulation and skylights. A “Just Transition” means living wages and healthy workplaces for the people who manufacture the “green” products we need to reduce emissions from buildings.
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Marchers occupy intersection in downtown Santa Ana
SANTA ANA, CALIF. — More than 125 people rallied and marched today in support of Santa Ana Kingspan Light + Air workers, as community, faith, labor and environmental groups work to hold the corporation accountable for its workplace safety violations and alleged industrial pollution. After occupying an intersection in downtown Santa Ana, marchers unfurled a giant parachute banner reading “!Kingspan Escucha!” as they called on the company to listen to workers’ concerns.
“We want better opportunities, a living wage, and a safe workplace,” said Israel Maldonado, an assembly lead at Kingspan Light + Air Division in Santa Ana. “We are united and have the support of the community.”
Employees file complaint with Cal/OSHA about conditions at insulated panels plant
MODESTO, CALIF. — Seven workers from Kingspan Insulated Panel’s Modesto facility filed a complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA)on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. They allege exposure to insulation dust and hazardous chemicals, unsanitary conditions due to an indoor infestation of pigeons, a history of inadequate training for hazardous materials, and a lack of personal protective equipment, among other complaints.
“On one occasion, a chemical was spilled out. And the smell was very strong all over the department. I was actually having a headache, because it was so strong,” said Kingspan Modesto worker Celina Arellano. “When a chemical is spilled out, they must evacuate us, because it’s very strong, and they didn’t do anything. . . they kept running the line.”
On September 22nd, a group of concerned supporters of workers at the facility, including Modesto Vice Mayor Chris Ricci and members of the multi-denominational non-profit Faith in Action, visited the plant to discuss the allegations, but company management refused to dialogue with the group.
A year ago, Cal/OSHA fined Kingspan $21,785 for 22 violations of the health and safety code after workers at the company’s Santa Ana, Calif., factory filed a complaint. Cal/OSHA’s findings included five serious violations, which means that the agency found “a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation.”
The Modesto factory produces QuadCore insulated panels for the $15 billion global Kingspan Group and is prominently featured in the company’s “Planet Passionate” program. The “sustainable” facility is covered in solar panels, but the working conditions described in the complaint show a different side of the operation.
QuadCore insulation foam core is made of isocyanate (MDI) and other proprietary chemicals. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) warns that “Workers exposed to MDI may develop serious or fatal respiratory disease.” At least one worker who signed the complaint is experiencing symptoms associated with MDI exposure, including cough, headaches, throat and nasal irritation. This worker also alleges they have not been informed or given training regarding the chemicals in use.
The complaint also alleges inadequate ventilation for the cutting of plastic insulation boards, resulting in high levels PM10 dust (particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter). The California Air Resource Board (CARB) has identified short-term exposures to PM10 as associated with worsening of respiratory diseases leading to hospitalization and ER visits. Workers have complained to Kingspan management about the levels of dust in the air.
“There’s dust flying everywhere,” says one worker. “There’s machines that are supposed to catch it but… the filters are so, so dirty… They blow with the air hoses to clean under the machines, and people will start coughing and stuff… You can feel it right away, the itchiness, the coughing. And you go on break, you blow your nose, and you can see it all in there.”
Cal/OSHA conducted an approximately four-hour unannounced inspection in Modesto on Friday, September 15, 2023.
The secretive, toxic materials behind the green building revolution
With thousands of green building professionals and manufacturers set to gather in Washington, D.C. this week for the annual GreenBuild conference, Kingspan insulation manufacturing workers expose the dark side of a “green” building industry.
Kingspan Group is a $15 billion public firm claiming to be the world’s leading producer of “green” high-performance insulated panels and building envelope products. It is scheduled to have four booths at the GreenBuild expo this week. Many in the United States are not aware that between 2006 and 2020 its U.K. insulation business had a 14-year record of making misleading fire safety claims, revealed in 2021 through the U.K. government’s public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire. Kingspan claims it is reformed, but workers at its Modesto, Calif., factory have filed a complaint. with the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal-OSHA). Their allegations not only call Kingspan’s compliance reforms into question, but raise important questions as to what it means for a company to be “green” when its workers face daily occupational health hazards.
(SANTA ANA, CALIF.) —U.S. Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif.,joined Kingspan factory workers at a community rally today to celebrate their victories advocating for safety and environmental protections in the Santa Ana skylight factory where they work. He then marched with workers in the city’s industrial zone.
“Workers at Kingspan are leading a movement for dignity, fairness, and health and safety,” said Correa, who represents California’s 46th congressional district, which includes the Santa Ana factory. “I support their struggle and celebrate the changes that have come about through their advocacy and leadership.”
UPDATE: Following Kingspan’s appeal, CalOSHA reduced the number of violations to 22, and the fines to $21,785. The case was closed on September 20, 2022.
Designation comes shortly after Cal/OSHA issues citations for serious health & safety violations at Santa Ana Kingspan factory, with fines of $39K
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE APRIL 27, 2022
Today, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) announced its 2022 “Dirty Dozen,” adding Kingspan Light & Air, located in Santa Ana, Calif., to a list of employers the organization says have “put workers, families and communities at risk.”
In naming global “green” building materials manufacturer Kingspan to the list, National COSH pointed to workplace air monitoring conducted by Kingspan employees in 2021 that found high levels of indoor air pollution.
Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group. Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects. You can support this call by signing on as an individual or organization. There are updates on the OSHA and EPA regulatory actions.
One week after Mercedes-Benz ended its partnership with Kingspan
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE DECEMBER 14, 2021
SANTA ANA, Calif. — Kingspan manufacturing workers in Santa Ana held a candlelight vigil today in solidarity with thousands marching in London on the 4 ½ year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people in the worst residential fire in the United Kingdom since World War II. Workers in Santa Ana are calling on Kingspan to listen to them about workplace safety. Grenfell fire survivors and bereaved are fighting to hold Kingspan accountable for safe homes.
SANTA ANA, Calif. —More than 100 people gathered in Delhi Park on Wednesday to hear city leaders, Kingspan factory workers, faith leaders and community and environmental activists address growing concerns about the labor and environmental track record of Kingspan, a global “green” building materials maker that manufactures skylights in the Delhi neighborhood.