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Supplement Manufacturer Plans to Contest OSHA Fine for Safety Violations

<p>In a notification last month, the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration cited Rasi Laboratories Inc. for failing to implement a hearing conservation program for employees who are exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels.</p>

SOMERSET, N.J.—Rasi Laboratories Inc., a manufacturer of nutritional supplements, plans to contest a $210,000 fine that was proposed by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor.

“There are no serious violations that this company did not correct," said Joe Rufolo of JW Rufolo & Associates, Inc., a New Jersey-based consulting and training firm that helps companies comply with OSHA. “And there are no serious hazards that any of the employees are exposed to."

“OSHA is wrong and this company is a very safety-conscious company and they do have a safety program in place," Rufolo added Wednesday in a phone interview. “We plan to contest the citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and expect to have the violations withdrawn."

Following a re-inspection that began in October 2013, OSHEA cited Rasi for failing to protect workers from dangerous noise levels and equipment. OSHA previously cited Rasi with seven violations and $23,100 in fines following a previous inspection at its Somerset facility in August 2012.

"This employer continues to endanger its workers by failing to correct hazardous conditions and failing to implement an injury and illness prevention program," said Robert Kulick, OSHA regional administrator in New York, in a statement. "Such disregard for worker safety is unacceptable."

OSHA said Rasi has 15 days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with an OSHA area director or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In a notification that was issued on April 25, 2014, OSHA cited Rasi for failing to implement a hearing conservation program for employees who are exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels. Rufolo said all of Rasi’s employees wear hearing protection and the noise level is 85 decibels, below OSHA’s threshold requiring equipment to reduce noise. But according to OSHA’s notification, the agency found during an Oct. 31, 2013 observation that employees working in the production area were exposed to continuous noise levels exceeding 89 decibels and up to 91 decibels. OSHA proposed an $84,000 fine for the alleged infraction.

OSHA also cited Rasi for failing to implement a so-called lockout/tagout program to protect workers while equipment is being maintained and serviced, and train employees on the proper procedures. The agency has proposed a $126,000 penalty in connection with the alleged violation.

Rufolo said OSHA’s standard for lockout-tagout doesn’t apply to Rasi’s cord and plug equipment because all the equipment is unplugged while it is being serviced. He distinguished that situation from, for instance, a home microwave that is hard-wired into a circuit. In that situation, someone would need to turn off the circuit breakers during servicing of the microwave and implement a lock to ensure nobody accidentally turns on the circuit during servicing of the unit, he explained. 

“With the cord unplugged, there is absolutely no hazard to the employees who are doing the work," said Rufolo, who also noted contract workers repair equipment, not Rasi employees. “All the equipment are plugged into outlets and they are unplugged from the outlets to do work. The lockout doesn’t apply."

OSHA declined to comment on the specific details of the case, noting it is within the 15-day contest period.

Finally, Rufolo questioned why OSHA waited months after the re-inspection to issue citations to Rasi.

“OSHA waited almost six months before telling this guy, ‘hey you didn’t do what we told you to do,’" Rufolo said. “If the situation was so serious, OSHA should have immediately" issued the citation.

Responded OSHA: "The additional penalties issued are based on Rasi Laboratories failure to correct continuing workplace hazards that were brought to their attention by OSHA during the initial issuance of citations in 2013."


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