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.