Austal USA Cited for Health and Safety Violations at Mobile Shipyard

usns choctaw county austal shipbuilding
U.S. Navy ships under construction at Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama. Photo credit: Austal USA

Austal USA has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor officials and may have to pay more than $40,000 in penalties related to 12 safety and health violations uncovered the company’s facility in Mobile, Alabama.

A statement from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) earlier this week said that the citation follows a May 2014 complaint against the U.S. government contractor and that the 12 violations involved fall and other hazards. The Dept. of Labor has proposed penalties totaling $41,500.

Of the 12 citations, nine of those were considered “serious” and related to a lack of standard railings on all staircases, exposing workers to fall hazards; improperly secured gas cylinders; and failure to reduce the pressure in a compressed air device to less than 30-pounds-per-square inch when cleaning. OSHA also cited the company for allowing worker overexposure to copper fumes during welding operations, as well as other citations including failure to ensure workers followed safety procedures to prevent accidental machine startup and to protect workers from unguarded machinery.

Three lesser citations were also issued for using temporary flexible cable instead of permanent wiring, improperly labeling hazardous chemicals and failure to ensure that temporary wiring was not damaged, according to the Dept. of Labor.

A serious violation 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.

OSHA notes that it has cited Austal’s Mobile facility three times in the past five years, previously issuing citations for improper use of slings and maritime gear, poor walking and working surfaces, a lack of accident prevention signage and electrical hazards.

Austal USA is a global contractor, designer and manufacturer of aluminum commercial and defense ships, such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) for the United States Navy. Austal USA acts as the U.S. branch of the Australia-based shipbuilder Austal, and its Mobile headquarters employs more than 4,000 people, according to some reports.

“The government expects that contractors, such as Austal, should not only deliver a good product, but also conduct operations in a safe manner,” said Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile. “The lack of attention to safety and health issues unnecessarily exposed employees to hazards at the Mobile facility, and these hazards need to be addressed and controlled throughout the shipbuilding process.”

OSHA says Austal has 15 business days from receipt of the citation and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In a statement obtained by Al.com, Austal responded: “Austal USA is one of the safest shipyards in the country…We take pride in the safe working environment that we provide for our employees both locally here in Mobile, Ala., and at any of our satellite offices around the country. Our merits and performance have resulted in multiple safety performance-based awards issued by both the Shipbuilders Council of America and the American Equity Underwriters.”

The company plans to work with OSHA on resolving the issues.