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OSHA: Macon company exposed workers to hazardous chemical

The recent story out of Texas about a massive blast at a fertilizer plant has gripped the nation's attention. That accident involved a massive fire, which spewed toxic smoke throughout the community. But it is important to note that toxic chemicals pose hazards for workers--even when there is no explosion or fire involved.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ran an investigation at a Macon, Georgia metal finishing plant recently. The workplace safety agency says that workers were exposed to unsafe levels of a dangerous chemical used at the plant. Many people may not recognize the name of the chemical off the top of their heads. However, the chemical--hexavalent chromium-may be recognizable to movie buffs, as it is the same chemical that was the issue in the movie "Erin Brockovich."

OSHA says that workers were exposed to the chemical at a level eight times higher than that allowed under safety rules. Exposure to the product can lead to occupational diseases, such as lung damage, cancer and ulcers.

The federal safety agency has cited the Macon-based metal coating company for several violations of work safety rules. The company may challenge the citations.

The recent probe is not the first for the company. In 2011, OSHA reduced fines imposed against the company after an investigation revealed that workers were exposed to the same product at levels reaching up to 50 times the legal allowable level.

Workers who develop medical conditions from exposure to toxins in the workplace may be able to recover benefits under Georgia's workers' compensation system. Most people think that workers' compensation is only available after a work-related accident. However, occupational diseases are also covered under our workers' compensation laws.

Source: The Telegraph, "Macon company faces $83,160 in OSHA fines," Mike Stucka, April 4, 2013

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