Mercury Poisoning Leads to OSHA Investigation and Fines
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In March 2016, several contracted hazardous materials remediation employees tested positive for mercury poisoning while working at a New York-based power and water main plant. In turn, their employer was fined $142,000 by OSHA for one willful, as well as 13 serious hazardous waste operation violations.

Mercury is one of the most thoroughly regulated toxic heavy metals, and for good reason. Exposure to the “quicksilver” substance can lead to permanent damage of the nervous system and kidneys. In industries where mercury is most present, such as mining and refinement, proper protection and constant surveillance is crucial to the health and safety of employees.

Mercury Poisoning Leads To OSHA Investigation

OSHA began to inspect the job site after multiple workers complained of “mercury poisoning and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).” Those employees were removing liquid mercury and mercury-contaminated wood and soil from the third and fourth floors of one of the plant buildings. OSHA confirmed that the remediation contractor not only failed to provide proper protective equipment, but also neglected to properly ventilate the site.

There are many steps that could have spared the company from its hefty fine.

“Had the monitoring been done, managers could have identified overexposures and mitigated or prevented them from occurring in the first place. Instead, these employees were needlessly sickened while simply doing their jobs,” Robert Garvey, OSHA’s Albany area director, said.

Sickened indeed, as these workers will potentially face the effects of mercury poisoning (i.e. mild tremors, mood swings, impaired memory, and skin irritation) for the rest of their lives.

“Particularly disturbing is the fact that company managers knowingly refused to perform personal exposure monitoring of employees most likely to have the highest exposure levels,” Garvey added.

Same Circumstances, Different Results

Just last week, The Portsmouth Herald reported that a construction crew was spared a similar fate when an employee spoke up about potential mercury hazards. The worker filed a complaint with OSHA stating that “employees are not adequately protected while removing material containing asbestos and mercury.”

The complaint was filed after the worker received a test result from Portsmouth Regional Hospital showing elevated levels of mercury in his body. The employer, Manafort Brothers Inc., received notice from OSHA and then quickly took steps to assess and remedy the danger.

The company released a statement that read:

“Manafort, working with Eversource management, immediately stopped the work. Further, Manafort engaged additional safety and health experts to assess the work conditions and to determine appropriate actions to ensure the safety and welfare of any personnel involved within the containment area.”

Employees who believe that they are working in hazardous conditions can safely speak up by contacting OSHA. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who voice concerns and exercise their rights under the law. Visit or Workers’ rights for more information.

29 CFR 1910.1200 – Hazardous Waste Operations Medical Surveillance Requirements:

  • Medical surveillance of workers exposed at or above permissible exposure limits for hazardous substances, conducted
    • (1) at least annually,
    • (2)when a worker moves to a new worksite,
    • (3) when a worker experiences exposure from unexpected or emergency releases and
    • (4) at the end of employment.

Consistent medical surveillance testing is required to create a healthy work site. Employers should aim to be proactive, rather than reactive, in monitoring their job sites and employees. Let the Worksite Medical staff test your employees for exposure to toxic substances, as well as make sure all personal protective equipment is up to OSHA standards. Learn more about what else medical surveillance can do.

Need medical surveillance testing? Contact Worksite Medical today!

Need medical surveillance testing? Contact Worksite Medical today!

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