Kingspan Workers Expose the Dark Side of a “Green” Industry

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.

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Congressman Joins Kingspan Factory Workers to Celebrate Wins and Push for Fair Process  

OCTOBER 19, 2022

(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.”  

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Kingspan Joins Amazon, Dollar General and Starbucks on 2022 ‘Dirty Dozen’ List 

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

APRIL 27, 2022

View the National COSH “Dirty Dozen 2022” report.

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.

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Cal/OSHA Issues Citations for Serious Health & Safety Violations at Kingspan Factory, With Fines of $39k

Santa Ana Kingspan workers Lucas, left, and Jorge just before filing their complaint with Cal-OSHA on Oct. 15, 2021.

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:

  1. 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.

Local and National Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan

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.

Kingspan Calif. Employees Hold Vigil in Solidarity with Survivors of U.K. Grenfell Tower Fire 

One week after Mercedes-Benz ended its partnership with Kingspan 

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.

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Santa Ana Community Rally Puts a Spotlight on Labor and Environmental Shortcomings of “Green” Manufacturer Kingspan

NOVEMBER 11, 2021

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.

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Kingspan Workers in Santa Ana File CalEPA and OSHA Whistleblower Complaints Alleging Violations of Clean Water and Worker Safety Laws at Global “Green” Building Manufacturer

Workers measured high air pollution levels inside the plant

OCTOBER 21, 2021

SANTA ANA, Calif. —Workers at Kingspan, a global “green” building materials maker, filed complaints with Cal/OSHA on October 15, and with the State Water Resources Board/CalEPA on October 19, alleging violations of worker safety and clean water laws at the company’s manufacturing facility in Santa Ana, Calif.

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Kingspan Workers File Whistleblower Complaint With Calif. Water Resources Control Board

Today, Kingspan employees working at the company’s Santa Ana, Calif., manufacturing plant and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), jointly filed a whistleblower complaint against Kingspan Light + Air (“Kingspan”), alleging that the company has been violating the Clean Water Act by not adhering to best management practices.

The complaint calls upon the State Water Resources Control Board, Office of Enforcement (a division of CalEPA), and the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board to investigate Kingspan’s compliance with its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) at its Santa Ana manufacturing facility. The complaint includes allegations that Kingspan instructed workers to use a leaf blower to blow dust and debris, rather than vacuuming it up per the terms of its SWPPP.

SMART is a union that represents sheet metal workers, welders, production employees and more in industries across the United States and Canada. Based on interviews with Kingspan workers, a SMART investigation has revealed that Kingspan has not adhered in enumerated ways to the Best Management Practices (“BMPs”) set out in the SWPPP and associated documents.