Selma auto supplier responds to fines over employee illnesses - - The News for South Mississippi

Selma auto supplier responds to fines over employee illnesses

(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is fining a Selma auto supplier after finding multiple violations, two of which were deemed "serious".  OSHA says Renosol Seating, which makes foam cushions for seats and headrests in Hyundai automobiles, must pay $9,350 as a result of the findings. OSHA, in a letter dated Nov. 18, cited Renosol for three violations. 

Lear Corporation, which owns Renosol Seating, issued a written statement on Dec. 1, maintaining, "Our workplace in Selma is safe and we are very proud of the fine job done by our employees there. We remain focused on serving our customers and building opportunity in the Selma community." 

That statement also says OSHA has accepted the results of a repeated scientific test that showed there are no breathing hazards at the plant. OSHA officials confirm those test results indicated levels were below OSHA standards, but OSHA also determined some employees exhibited signs and symptoms associated with isocyanates.

The first OSHA violation states that the company, "...failed to provide and require employees to use arm sleeves when employees are required to handle materials containing Toluene Diisocyanate (TDI) and Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) which is a sensitizer that is absorbed through the skin." 

The second violation states that the company, "failed to select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection..." when handling TDI and MDI. 

The third violation, which OSHA deemed "Other-than-Serious", deals with Renosol's failure to record incident reports on three employees who became ill with "work-related asthma".

[DOCUMENT: OSHA letter to Renosol Seating, LLC. (.pdf)]

OSHA's findings come after a group of Renosol's workers came forward to say their job is making them sick. The employees told NBC News that exposure to a harmful chemical has caused a string of sinus infections, chronic coughs, bronchitis, shortness of breath, and asthma. 

[ON THE WEB: NBC report "What's making these Selma Alabama auto parts workers sick" 7/14/14]

Eight current employees and 3 previous employees came forward to NBC News, hoping to get help with their chronic health problems. 

They have a theory about what's making them so sick , saying it's exposure to TDI, a chemical used to make the seat foam. Similar chemicals are found in paints, nail polish and insulation.

Back in 2008, 10 employees filed a lawsuit against Renosol and its parent company, Lear, alleging that workers were, "repeated and continually exposed to hazardous chemicals." However, A judge dismissed that lawsuit in 2012 without citing a reason.

Then, just this spring, a leak in a pipe that carries TDI forced an evacuation of the plant and prompted employees to file a complaint with OSHA. Now, workers are trying to form a union with help from United Auto Workers. UAW says health issues top the list of grievances at the Renosol plant. 

Renosol employees explain their longstanding health concerns at this plant, and how they hope forming a union will help.

The Lear Corporation issued this statement to NBC News following its July report: 

"The company has taken these employee concerns very seriously." Lear said the company "completed exhaustive testing and evaluation, and based on internal investigation, two separate independent environmental evaluations, as well as a thorough OSHA evaluation, Lear concluded that the environment in the Selma plant is safe for our employees. It goes on to say, "we are in the midst of an emotional union organizing campaign. During such campaigns, there are often unsubstantiated allegations made."

Latasha Irby has worked in at the plant for 9 years. She believes her exposure to TDI and other harmful chemicals there contributed to her chronic health problems.

"When I was pregnant with my daughter, I stayed congested all the time, at night, and I couldn't take nothing because I was pregnant," she says. Four years after her daughter was born, Irby says the symptoms still haven't gone away.

"She also is stopped up and congested, the same way that I do," Irby said of her daughter.

"It validates what workers, past workers and present workers have been saying for years," says Irby of OSHA's fine. She no longer works inside the plant itself.

"I'm across the street at the warehouse, checking pads," she says. She's okay with that, since she feels there's really nowhere else for her to work.

"Jobs aren't plentiful here." But even if she did have other options, Irby would stay where she is and keep fighting for change.

"Everyone deserves a hhealthyand safer work environment. You should not have to put your health at risk to provide for your family."

Workers plan to address the issues at the plant. Part of that plan includes a town hall meeting scheduled for Wednesday night, Dec. 3. An independent expert from Yale University will talk about how the plant is making workers sick and what needs to be done to make it safe. OSHA officials have also been invited. That town hall meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at 4484 Water street in Selma.

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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