State safety regulators have imposed $30,400 in fines on Instafab, a steel fabrication and installation firm under fire from labor union advocates, for 10 safety violations categorized as “serious” at the Vancouver company’s fabrication plant.
The Department of Labor & Industries’ fines range from $2,400 to $4,800 for violations related to hazardous chemical safety, management of open flames in the manufacturing area and inadequate noise monitoring procedures. The company was also tagged with seven “general” fines.
Labor & Industries outlined the violations and fines in a March 18 letter to Instafab. The company did not appeal the fines, and Instafab owner Bruce Perkins said all of the violations have been corrected.
Instafab is embroiled in an ongoing conflict with some former employees who told the non-union company they are on strike against it. Both sides are awaiting an eventual determination from the National Labor Relations Board on whether the employee walkouts constitute an economic strike or an unfair labor practices strike. The difference is significant in determining the voting rights of the striking workers and management’s obligations to return the striking workers to their jobs. Employees have raised issues of safety and job training as well as wages and retirement benefits.
Perkins said Tuesday in an email to The Columbian that he believed Labor & Industries faced political pressure to come down hard on his embattled company.
“(Labor & Industries) spent weeks at our shop, monitoring sounds, smells and anything else they could think of,” Perkins wrote. “Someone told them to run us through the wringer.”
He said the state agency was unwilling to negotiate what he described as “steep” fines, and said he hoped to develop a payment plan.
“I’m getting hit from every direction,” Perkins wrote. “Some days I feel like a sitting duck.”
Elaine Fischer, a spokeswoman for Labor & Industries, said the agency initiated the inspection after receiving two complaints.
“The violations that were cited were occurring at the time of the inspection, and 10 were considered ‘serious,’ which means there is a probability of serious injury, illness or death,” she wrote. “The employer had an opportunity to appeal and didn’t, so the violations and penalties are final.”
In a letter signed by Labor & Industries Assistant Director Anne Soiza, the state agency cited Instafab for the following serious violations. It said the company:
• “Did not develop, implement and maintain a written hazard communication program.” Fine: $4,800.
• “Did not provide employees with effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area.” Fine: $4,800.
• “Did not ensure that there were no open flames or spark producing equipment in the spray area nor within 20 feet, unless separated by a partition.” Fine: $2,400.
• “Did not ensure that residue scrapings and debris contaminated with residue were immediately removed from the premises and disposed of properly.” Fine: $2,400.
• “Did not ensure that whenever flammable or combustible liquids are transferred from one container to another, both containers shall be effectively bonded and grounded to prevent discharge sparks of static electricity.” Fine: $2,400
• “Did not ensure that electrical equipment and wiring in any spray area where deposits of combustible residues may readily accumulate were approved for hazardous locations.” Fine: $2,400
• “Did not ensure that flammable and combustible liquids that were kept in the vicinity of the spraying operations be kept to the minimum required for one day of operation or one shift.” Fine: $2,400
• “Did not ensure emergency eyewash facilities were accessible when there was potential for employees’ eyes to be exposed to corrosives, strong irritants, or toxic materials.” Fine: $2,400.
• “Did not conduct noise exposure monitoring to determine employees’ actual exposure when reasonable information indicated that any employee’s exposure may equal or exceed 85 decibels timeweighted average for eight hours.” Fine: $3,200.
• “Did not identify and correct deficiencies in the hearing loss program by providing annual audiograms.” Fine: $3,200.
The company has about 75 employees who work as either fabricators at the manufacturing plant at 2424 E. Second St. or at job sites throughout the metro area, including some large Portland commercial and residential buildings. Perkins said three of his field workers left the company last week, adding that his attorney has advised him to inform new hires that they are permanent replacements for the striking workers.
“We need to put it out there that we consider this strike an ‘economic strike,’ not an ‘unfair labor practices’ strike, which would mean the strikers are not entitled to their jobs back, and they lose the right to vote for a union after 12 months,” he wrote.