URBANA — Flex-N-Gate Corp. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for four "serious" violations at its Guardian West plant in Urbana.
The citations, issued Tuesday, claimed the auto parts plant did not adequately protect workers from combustible dust explosion hazards or protect them from robots and conveyors that were unexpectedly energized.
The company faces $21,000 in penalties for the citations. OSHA Area Director Thomas Bielema said Flex-N-Gate has 15 working days to choose one of three possible responses:
— Accept the citations, pay the penalties and show the problems have been resolved.
— Ask for an informal conference with Bielema in hopes of settling the dispute.
— Formally appeal the citation by contesting it before a review commission magistrate.
Flex-N-Gate, through its public relations firm, issued a statement that "OSHA citations contain allegations which have not been proven, and Guardian West looks forward to providing its detailed responses to each OSHA allegation."
The statement said, "Guardian West is a safe and responsible employer" that is serious about workplace health and safety.
It added that Guardian West invests in required protective gear, training, monitoring and specialized safety equipment.
According to one OSHA citation, seven indoor dust collectors in Guardian West's metal polishing department lacked methods of protection from explosions and burning. The collectors handle dust generated from a metal polishing process.
The other three citations involve robots and conveyors being unexpectedly energized while people were maintaining or servicing them. Those citations allege:
— The company didn't have procedures in place for controlling hazardous energy, such as a robot that was suddenly energized while workers were cleaning or changing the welding tips.
— Energy-isolating devices weren't located so they could isolate equipment from its energy source.
— Energy-isolating devices didn't have lockout or tag-out devices affixed to them.
The company has until Nov. 6 to abate the robot and conveyor problems and until Dec. 13 to abate the dust collector problem.
Guardian West, at 601 Guardian Drive, U, was cited for nine violations in June for failing to monitor workers' exposure to nickel, chromium, hydrochloric and sulfuric acid following a December 2011 inspection. A total of $57,000 in fines were proposed for those violations.
According to the United Auto Workers, employees at several Flex-N-Gate plants are trying to form a union with the UAW, which represents workers at six company facilities in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.
"We are optimistic that Flex-N-Gate plant managers will see the OSHA citations as a wake-up call," said Cindy Estrada, a UAW vice president who is also director of the union's parts and suppliers department.