OSHA fines Flex-N-Gate $57,000

OSHA fines Flex-N-Gate $57,000

URBANA — Flex-N-Gate is facing $57,000 in fines after the Occupational Health and Safety Administration found "serious" violations affecting workers at the Urbana plant.

An OSHA spokeswoman on Thursday said that workers at the company's Urbana plant, known as Guardian West, were exposed to dangerous chemicals and did not receive proper training, examinations and monitoring from their employer.

Flex-N-Gate Corp., owned by Champaign resident Shahid Khan, is headquartered in Urbana and is an international manufacturer of bumpers and other parts for the automotive industry. The company employs more than 12,450 people at 50 manufacturing and nine product development and engineering facilities throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Spain, according to OSHA.

The Urbana plant was the only facility cited by OSHA on Thursday. Guardian West previously was inspected by OSHA in October 2010, resulting in citations for two serious violations.

The most recent case was opened on Dec. 15, 2011, after OSHA received a complaint alleging unsafe working conditions, said spokeswoman Rhonda Burke.

As a result, OSHA issued a citation for nine violations on Thursday. All were classified as serious, which "occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known," according to an OSHA press release.

Four of the nine cite inadequate medical surveillance for workers performing decorative-plating operations with regard to chromium and chromic acid exposure.

"Chromium produces small dust particles that, when breathed, can be dangerous to your health," Burke said.

The chemical can irritate or damage workers' noses, throats and lungs, according to OSHA, and may cause lung cancer if inhaled at high levels.

According to OSHA, Flex-N-Gate failed to provide periodic examinations of exposed body parts, especially nostrils; implement an effective respiratory program that includes training; identify and evaluate respiratory hazards; and provide medical evaluations for respirator use and fit-testing for respirators.

The remaining violations were issued for Flex-N-Gate's failure to monitor the average exposure to chromium for each employee; maintain surfaces free of chromium accumulations; provide effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in the work area during a worker's initial assignment or when a new hazard is introduced to the work area; and provide medical examinations for chromium exposure while ensuring that the medical professional conducting exams has copies of the exposure standards as well as a description of employees' duties.

Part of the problem, Burke said, was that Flex-N-Gate did not adequately communicate training and hazards to its employees. The plant has a high concentration of Congolese workers whose native language is French.

"You need to make sure that they understand that training," Burke said. "And if that means you have to provide that training in other language resources," then the company is responsible for that.

Representatives for the company could not be reached on Thursday. Flex-N-Gate has 15 business days to fix the violations, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

United Auto Workers organized a rally in Urbana in March in an effort to unionize about 320 laborers. There, workers discussed the OSHA complaints and talked about what they believed to be dangerous working conditions.

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SouthernMan wrote on June 15, 2012 at 8:06 am

Looks like the Unoins are following OHSA to get $$$ from the plants that violate safety rules and regulations. Reminds me of lawyers that follow ambulances for the lawsuit $$$.

Nice Davis wrote on June 15, 2012 at 9:06 am

The money from the fines would go to OSHA, not the union. I don't understand where you're getting the idea that the union is making money off this.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

If anything about unions pertain to this story, it is that a union would have dealt with health and safety in the workplace.  The comment about unions, and OSHA seems to be uncaring about the workers exposed to the chemicals.  Does hating unions come to the point of disregarding workers health, and safety?   This story points out the dangers of greedy corporate interests.  The owner recently bought an NFL team.  He has a private jet.  He has more than one mansion.  Yet, he makes his profits by disregarding his employees health, and safety.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm
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Well said, Sid.  If Mr. Khan can afford the Jacksonville Jaguars, he can afford to provide a safe working environment for his employees.

Wingman wrote on June 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm

This and many other issues could have been prevented (hand in auto,eyeball pressure washer) if HR would have made a decision not to hire people that could not speak English.  Were they ever that hard up for help that they had to hire people they couldn't communicate with.  Sounds like a bad idea to me.

dimplezusa wrote on June 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm

They hire people who are native English speakers and are just as unconcerned about their safety.  My friend worked there and her supervisors ordered her to do completely unsafe activities, such as going into the paint booth with the robots, WHILE the robots were painting.  The companies complete disregard for safety has nothing to do with their workers.  They happen to be exploiting both English speaking and non-English speaking employees.

Holly Hirchert wrote on June 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

The union was contacted by employees who were concerned for their overall health. this has nothing to do with the unions following OHSA. I tried to get OHSA to invetigate unsafe work practices at this facility in in 2002, but they insisted that the employee being affected contact them. They were reluctant because they feared losing their job. One purpose of unions is to protect workers. Also, the people at Guardian West who work on the production lines are overworked and underpaid. Some of them work seven days a week and then lose their jobs because they took off work to take a sick child to the doctor.

GW wrote on June 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Southernman we don't need you around anymore. This article is not about the union its about the health and safety of workers. The same workers that put the product out the door so Mr. Khan can go out and buy his jets and mansions.

If you are so opposed to unions then you should go back to the south with all of your Right to Work (For Less) states. And in case you didn't know, which I believe you did because you are apparently working in the north, the average pay rate in Right to Work(For Less) states is lower than for the states the don't allow it.


Sid Saltfork wrote on June 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Thank you; davis, alabaster, and GW.  Uniions brought health, and safety for the workers years ago.  Whatever one's feelings are toward unions; the fact remains that non-union workers face more dangers in the workplace as evidenced in this article.

SouthernMan wrote on June 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

It's not that you don't need me around anymore, it's that you don'y want me around anymore because you can't handle the truth about what unions really are about. In this "New Economy" the unions are pretty much going extinct and they will do anything for getting their numbers up to rip off the workers of their hard earned cash. The old school belief that unions are for the people has long been extinct itself. "Truth"

Mark Taylor wrote on June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

Southern man is ding dang right: the south is the future for you dang northern spoilt workers who you deserve fair wages for fair work. Welcome to Alamissitucky, you lazy overpaid workers with your dang unions and safe workplaces. You'll be lucky to get a job and if you do have a job, you'll learn soon enough not to complain about the sickness and death you and your co workers face at work.

Citizens United and the Republican party are gonna make all of the north just like the south regarding unions, safety and fair pay.

Vote Romney 2012 or he just might enjoy firing your butt and foreclosing your family right out of that nice home you got!!


SouthernMan wrote on June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

Unions are one thing and one thing only "A Business" out to make a buck regardless of safety issues. Why did they go after Wal Mart? Big $$$, nothing more, nothing less.

Wingman wrote on June 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Looks to me like the problem is being fixed without the Union in the plant.  so I would say NO to them needing a union.  By the way, if the UAW was so good for them then why did their sister plant (the one in the picture) vote them out.  Flex-N-Gate was a union shop........but the people were tired of giving them money and not getting anything in return.  The employees had to go 3 years without a pay raise because the union was in "contract negotiations"  During this same period Guardian West was getting pay raises.  I love how the UAW was telling people they would get Air Conditioning in Guardian West if they were voted in..........Flex-n-Gate never had AC and never had plans to have AC and they had the UAW...... I know the libs reading this will hate it, but it is all fact.  Unions will promise you the world and then not deliver.  Their goal is to obtain members.  There was a time when unions helped the average worker.....Now all they do is cost them money. Southern Man keep up the good work.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm

"contract negotiations" are just that.  It is the negotiating between a union, and a company.  Of course, no pay raises were given during "contract negotiations".  Would non-English speakers vote to stay in a union?  It is doubtful.  Why was there a problem getting competent English speakers?  Was it a problem with low wages, and health and safety concerns?  Yes, the company won.  Now, see what the company did.  Seems that you are defending hiring "immigrants", and disregarding the health and safety of the workers.  Do you, or did you work at Flex-n-Gate?  Are you, or were you in management?  Do you get to sit in the private box at the U of I football games?  Mr. Khan's battle with the union did not cause OSHA to fine Flex-n-Gate.  It is only a $57,000 fine.  Mr. Khan spends more than that on jet fuel. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Oh, wait.....  Wingman are you Mr. Khan's pilot?  If so, you fly Jimmy John also.

Wingman wrote on June 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Wow Sid you are way off.  I never sat in a private box or in his plane.  There isn't a problem getting English or Spanish speaking people in the plant.  the wages there are very respectable for the area.  No you aren't going to become a millionaire buiding bumpers (even though the union is telling people that their wages will almost double).  If you look at my original post you will see that I said the company was at fault for hiring people that they could not communicate with.  The issue is not at the floor level.  People that can't read ond or understand the training should have never been hired.  If GW wanted to hire French speaking people, they should have people in place to train them.  There are enough Spanish speaking people there that this has never been an issue.  Yes I worked there for a little while, but i was on the floor like everybody else.  I do still have a friend or two that work there now.  I saw people recieve training and not understand a word of it, but when you would ask "Do you understand?" they would say yes. 

I think your issue is more with the fact that Shahid Khan is a very wealthy man.  Remember he was an immigrant at one time.   

danrice56 wrote on June 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Whatever Sid's issue is with my man, MY issue isn't with his wealth, but what he chooses to do with it. A billionaire can't spare a few hundred thousand to make a plant safe so the people who are keeping him wealthy by building his products can do so free of fear of poor health and dangerous conditions? That is too much to ask?

I cannot believe this is even a question. The man has plenty of money, yet chooses to expose his workers to dangerous conditions so he can have even more money.


Does anyone defending him have ANY human decency?

SouthernMan wrote on June 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Well said! I have worked Union and Non Union jobs and the Non Union lobs were safer then Union jobs. The Union used to be about the workers safety now it's all about the $$$ and total disregard of safety. That's why the unions are dissapearing.



Whoopdidoo wrote on July 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

Southernman, that is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE! Union contracts often negotiate tougher safety standards than OSHA regulations! Just as I won't work for minimum wage, I refuse to work with minimum health and safety standards. The $57,000.00 fines do NOT go to the union. There were 9 SERIOUS charges, meaning the employer is engaging in activities that could result in serious injury and or death! Take your right to work for less garbage back to where you came from!

Ellen wrote on June 16, 2012 at 7:06 am

Just a question as I do not understand. I believe it was Holly who mentioned that the production line employees were overworked and underpaid. Where is the union rep for the Guardian West facility and are the wages and hours not monitored by the unions? I assume union dues are deducted from these workers paychecks, so isn't the union a little slack as well? I wholeheartedly support unions, but it seems to me that this particular union dropped the ball as well. 

Tschussle wrote on June 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Hi Ellen,

   This plant does not have a union in place yet but is currently in the process of trying to get one. It is the hope of union organizers that having a union here will give workers a voice in workplace safety to avoid problems like these in the future. If the ball has been dropped, it is by the Flex-N-Gate employers, who have thus far engaged in divide-and-conquer strategies among the English-, French-, and Spanish-speaking workers of the plant. Thanks for asking, and please do not lose your faith in unions.

Bob from Champaign wrote on June 16, 2012 at 8:06 am

Sometime in the future . . .

Flex-N-Gate annouces the closure of their Guardian West facility.  Production will move to their facilities in Mexico, Argentina, Brasil, or Spain.

Union Yes!

SouthernMan wrote on June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

If Flex-N-Gate goes union it probably move out of the U.S. and not return. How are the union employees doing at that plant just south of Kraft, I believe it was A C Humko/ACH Foods. From what I have heard all those union jobs went to ADM and the facility has been leveled.

                                                        GO UNIONS (Sarcasm)

danrice56 wrote on June 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Go workers being exposed to dangerous working conditions in the name of the greater good. (Sarcasm.)

Whoopdidoo wrote on July 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

Yeah, right Bob, just like the 40% + of Khan's plants that are union?

danrice56 wrote on June 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Those damn unions. Now Mr. Khan has to dig, deep, deep into his couch to come up with the pocket change to pay these fines, all because some employees were whining about their "health" and "safety."

Be grateful you got a job. So what if you might die from it, leaving your family with no means of support.


Jumbo jets and enormous luxury yachts don't pay for themselves you know.



(Sarcasm hopefully noted.)

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm

In March of this year, the employees complained about health and safety conditions.  The protective masks that had been worn cost $5.  They were replaced with .50 cent masks.  The entry employee starts as a "temp" at $9.00 an hour.  If the "temp" makes it thru the probationary time, they earn $11.00 an hour.  That is how Mr. Khan runs his sweatshops across the country.  That is why he can afford to buy an NFL team; and have a private jet.  Whether there is a union, or no union; the employees complained, and OSHA leveled a minor fine.  The work conditions with chemicals, and no adequate employee protections are the story here.  The UAW did try to unionize the factory.  At least; the union, and the employees brought attention to the work conditions.  How can anyone without a financial interest in the company justify Mr. Khan's greed?  Of course, some will rabidly blame President Obama for it since everything anymore dealing with the economy is irrationally his fault.  Do you reallly believe that less regulations enforced by OSHA, and the EPA will result in a better economy?  A better economy for the likes of Mr. Khan maybe..........

Bulldogmojo wrote on June 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm

It is good news that OSHA is doing its job before serious harm gets done. They have an unfortunate history of showing up too late when something lethal has already occurred. As far as the labor versus management/ownership dispute, about half of this country seems to be under the misconception that teachers, fireman, police, prison guards and health workers are responsible for wrecking the economy because they are union members...Really? If you want to know for sure who did, watch a PBS documentary called "The Warning" just make sure you have a good stiff drink first.

Bill Kowalski wrote on July 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I don't see one word in this article about anyone actually being harmed by the alleged conditions.  And if it's so unsafe, why do they want to work there so bad?         

It sounds like government nit-picking.   Just like the cops who have to write so many tickets every day, OSHA inspectors have to write citations to show the boss they're working.

Whoopdidoo wrote on July 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

Bill, 9 SERIOUS violations? OSHA defines a serious violation as; "The word serious as used in serious hazard, serious violation or serious condition means a hazard, violation or condition such that there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result." Ever see Erin Brockovich? Would you say no one was injuered in Hinkley, Califorinia? Same chemical. Would you work all day breathing a chemical that has been linked to lung cancer? OSHA is a good thing, not perfect, but better than nothing!