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More Safety Violations Cited At Howard Industries

Tue, 12/13/2011 - 4:26am
Jeff Amy, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Federal workplace safety officials said Monday that they are again citing a Mississippi electrical and lighting maker for unsafe practices.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused Laurel-based Howard Industries of eight rules violations, which could carry a fine of up to $59,000. The privately held company, which also makes computer and other equipment, has more than 3,000 employees at plants in and around Laurel. It also has plants in Mendenhall, Miss., and Weirton, W.Va.

The latest violations are for Howard's plant in Laurel that makes radiators for electrical transformers. OSHA officials cited Howard for repeat violations on two issues — allowing employees to work on machines that were not safely disabled, and using electrical equipment that wasn't fully grounded.

OSHA cited six other violations, including failing to make sure workers are protected when using chemicals or grinding equipment.

Clyde Payne, the head of OSHA's Jackson, Miss., office, said the citations arose from an inspection six months ago. He said OSHA visited the plant because of its high rates of injury and work-related illness.

According to federal records, the Howard plant had five times as many recorded work-related illnesses and injuries in 2009 as the national average for factories.

Howard did not respond Monday to requests for comment. The company has been accused of more than 130 rules violations in the last five years, according to OSHA records.

OSHA often reduces fines below the original amount as part of a settlement with an employer. Howard, for example, has paid or agreed to pay more than $300,000 in fines to the agency in the five-year period, down from an initial total of more than $500,000.

Despite the company's record, Payne said that OSHA believes safety is improving at Howard's plants.

"We are making progress with them," he said. "From where we have been, they have turned a corner and are moving forward."

Less optimistic were officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents employees at some of Howard's plants, although not the one cited on Monday.

"This appears to be yet another example of Howard Industries' failing to comply with federal rules," said Roger Doolittle, a lawyer for the union's Local 1317.

Howard has also run afoul of federal authorities for employing illegal immigrants. After agents detained nearly 600 illegal immigrants in 2008 the largest such raid in U.S. history, Howard pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate immigration laws and was fined $2.5 million.

 

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