In two days in October, inside of wind-turbine blade No. 106, the amount of a hazardous substance called styrene reached 1,889 parts per million and then 2,195 parts per million, triggering air-quality alarms at LM Wind Power in Grand Forks.
Workers were inside the confines of the giant blade, but a supervisor failed to get them out, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Styrene is a hazardous chemical used in fiberglass production and the maximum exposure OSHA allows is 600 parts per million, or ppm.
The October incident and several others throughout August and September at LM’s plant led to proposed fines totaling $136,500, which the agency announced Monday.
LM did not respond Monday to a message seeking comment.
“We’re working with the company,” said Tom Deutscher, area director for OSHA’s Bismarck office. “In the past they’ve really expressed a desire to work with us.”
The latest proposed fines, which LM can challenge, follows another set of proposed fines totaling $92,000 for various incidents that contributed to the death of a worker in July. LM is challenging that fine.
The Denmark-based company employs about 440 in Grand Forks.
OSHA cited LM with four “serious” violations, with penalties totaling $28,000; two “willful” violations, with penalties totaling $70,000; and five “repeat” violations, with penalties totaling $38,500.
In one violation, OSHA said LM workers did not have proper protective equipment for working with styrene. “Severe chemical burns to the body were reported to the employer,” the agency said.
Excessive exposure to styrene can affect the central nervous system, according to the agency’s website, leading to “complaints of headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, malaise, difficulty in concentrating and a feeling of intoxication.” It is also considered a potential human carcinogen.
The maximum exposure at 600 ppm is only for a short period of time, Deutscher said. For an eight-hour shift, it’s about 100 ppm.
In another violation, OSHA said LM allowed one worker to be exposed to 277 ppm and another to be exposed to 275 ppm during their entire shifts.
Compounding LM’s violations is the allegation by OSHA that it knew there were problems but did nothing, which Deutscher said led to the willful violations.
The agency cited the fact that LM had air-quality readings for blade No. 106 and blade No. 1790, which reached 1,945 and 995 ppm, but didn’t get workers out from inside the blades as safety rules require.
LM was last cited for such violations in April 2008, OSHA said. Agency records indicate LM paid $17,400 in fines for 10 serious violations and one repeat violation. Those fines were reduced from $29,000 after the company worked with OSHA.