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OSHA Cites, Fines Environmental Testing Lab for Over $907K

Violations related to flammables, corrosives, toxins, and electrical hazards

Jonathan Klane, M.S.Ed., CIH, CSP, CHMM, CIT

Jonathan Klane, M.S.Ed., CIH, CSP, CHMM, CIT, is senior safety editor for Lab Manager. His EHS and risk career spans more than three decades in various roles as a...

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Phoenix Environmental Labs in Manchester, CT, was inspected by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and received a letter no employer wants to get. Dated August 26, 2022 was a 33-page letter  to Phoenix Environmental Labs  and its successors listing all of the alleged violations, citations, and fines OSHA proposes. These encompass the lab standard and other OSHA regulations. The many citations total almost $1 million USD. This appears to be the largest OSHA fine issued in Connecticut, according to one source. It is also one of the largest OSHA fines issued to a commercial laboratory. 

Details of the inspection, alleged violations, and proposed citations

According to OSHA, lab employees suffered from over exposures to methylene chloride (aka MC, dichloromethane or DCM). Employees complained to lab management who allegedly did little to remedy the situation. Staff symptoms included an unsteady gait, light-headedness, headaches, and dizziness, all of which are associated with MC/DCM exposures. Neither the letter nor OSHA’s news release clarifies how OSHA found out or was notified of the situation. 

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 There are 21 individual citations, most are “Serious” or “Willful” violations totaling $907,253. Violations include the OSHA Laboratory Standard at 29 CFR Part 1910.1450—an extensive regulation for labs (except for production labs). There were several other regulations including electrical hazards, a lack of proper medical attention, the methylene chloride standard, as well as communication and training lapses. 

The violations break down as: 

  • 12 “Serious”
  • One “Other-than-Serious”
  • Eight “Willful” 

Willful violations are worse than serious ones. It means the company allegedly knew and didn’t take reasonable and prudent steps to abate the known hazards, or they had a callous disregard for the hazard and/or employee exposures  to them. See Table 1 for a list of hazard categories with several examples in each. 

Flammable LiquidsStacked drums, no bonding and grounding while dispensing, oxygen cylinder with visible rust at the valve/collar
CorrosivesNo eyewash or emergency shower within vicinity of nitric and hydrochloric acid use
ToxinsFume hood deficiencies, chemical hygiene plan without some SOPs, exposed above OSHA’s limit for MC/DCM and failed to monitor this, lack of proper PPE for MC/DCM
ElectricalExposed motors, static electricity, openings in boxes and connectors, defective cords, blocked control panel, unqualified workers
MedicalNo medical surveillance for MC/DCM, no exams for employees’ symptoms
Training and CommunicationUntrained workers on electrical equipment, no notice of exposure results, lack of training on hazardous lab chemicals    

Table 1: Hazard Categories Cited by OSHA During Phoenix Environmental Labs Inspection

Company’s options

Phoenix Environmental Labs had 15 days (through Sept. 10, 2022) to respond. They must provide written abatement certification of each violation (within 10 days of each abatement) including any documentation, such as photos, diagrams, reports by others such as licensed electricians, industrial hygienists, ventilation engineers, etc.

The company must post OSHA’s letter and the lab’s responses where employees can see them as is standard for all OSHA notices. They’re prohibited from discriminating against any employees who may have complained to OSHA or were a whistleblower. 

They may request an informal conference with OSHA during the 15 days, which has now expired if one didn’t occur.

Dichloromethane in glass, chemical in the laboratory and industry
iStock / Kittisak Kaewchalun

The 15-day clock keeps ticking regardless of any responses, meetings, etc. The lab has the right to contest these citations. 

What’s next?

The lab’s 15 days expired on or about Sept. 10, 2022. We’re currently unaware of their steps, meetings, abatement, reduced citations, etc. We’ll continue to monitor this situation and report back as we get new details. All of this would have been easily avoided by designating persons for safety, actively supporting their efforts, involving employees, identifying hazards, taking steps to abate them, and leading through a culture of safety.