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.
After conducting a six-month inspection, Cal-OSHA has cited Kingspan Light & Air – a subsidiary of global building materials company Kingspan Group – for 24 alleged violations of California’s occupational health and safety code at its Santa Ana skylight factory, including five serious violations, and set fines against the company at $39,145. Issued on April 14, 2022, the citations and fines become final if Kingspan does not appeal within 15 working days of receipt.
Kingspan workers filed a complaint with the agency in October 2021 after growing concerned over workplace exposure to the air pollutant PM 2.5. In the complaint, Kingspan workers stated that they could attest to violations that included “high levels of indoor air pollution, inadequate or non-existent ventilation especially around welding and spray-paint operations, faulty machines, trip and fall hazards in working areas, obstructed eyewash stations, empty eyewash stations which are not filled with water, frequent workplace injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and a lack of proper training around chemical use and injury prevention.”
Researchers estimate exposure to PM 2.5 causes between 85,000 and 200,000 premature deaths each year. With the assistance of UC-Irvine air pollution scientist Dr. Shahir Masri, Kingspan workers wore and positioned air monitoring devices inside the factory over three workdays while community allies monitored the air in the surrounding neighborhood. The air monitoring results showed PM 2.5 concentrations inside the factory six to seven times higher than what was measured outdoors. Of eight employees who carried air monitors, five recorded average PM 2.5 concentrations that, if measured outdoors, would rank between “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” on the EPA’s Air Quality Index. Some measurements reached the maximum limit of the monitor’s detection ability.
The monitoring results were not surprising to some Kingspan workers, who weld, spray paint, and assemble skylights. “When you start welding, the material is very dirty. So, it gives off a lot of smoke,” said Mica Pacheco, who works as a welder at the factory. “We have been talking to [Kingspan] for a long time, especially about the extractors we need to get rid of the smoke. But they just say, ‘Later, later, it’s coming.’”
Notably, the Cal-OSHA citations allege that Kingspan broke the law by:
- Not keeping records on whether the ventilation systems used to prevent exposure to air pollution were actually effective;
- Not measuring air pollution workers were exposed to when it was reasonable to suspect illegally high levels;
- Failing to medically evaluate and fit workers for proper respirators, and then failing to train workers on how to appropriately use the respirators.
- Failing to keep an up-to-date list of all the hazardous chemicals present in the factory and to train workers on how to safely use them.
Citations alleging serious violations were issued because Kingspan had workers use bench grinders, air-supplied crimper machines, radial arm saws, and circular metal-cutting saws without the appropriate guards and protections. “Serious” violations under California law are ones where “there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation.