In the largest penalty ever assessed for job health and safety violations, the Labor Department fined the Chrysler Corp. more than $1.5 million yesterday for 811 infractions, including willfully exposing auto workers to lead and arsenic.
Chrysler said it would not contest the fine, terming most of the violations "relatively minor ... discrepancies."
All the violations -- including 338 classified as "willful" or knowing defiance of the law -- were found during a January inspection of the company's Newark, Del., auto assembly plant by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA has since inspected two other Chrysler facilities -- an auto assembly line in Belvidere, Ill., and a stamping plant at Twinsburg, Ohio -- but results have not been announced .
"These are still pending cases," said OSHA spokesman Terry Mikelson. "There should be something pretty soon on Belvidere."
More than one-fourth -- 225 -- of the willful violations were for instances in which workers in the Delaware plant's paint and soldering shops were exposed to hazardous levels of lead or arsenic.
Penalties of $8,000 each -- a total of $1.048 million -- were levied for 131 of those violations, based on the number of employes exposed, Mikelson said. The Newark plant has about 4,000 workers.
Overexposure to lead can damage the central nervous system and, in sufficient quantities, cause death. Arsenic also is a lethal chemical and a potential carcinogen.
OSHA Administrator John A. Pendergrass called the fine "the only possible response to a totally unacceptable situation" where Chrysler "put workers in jeopardy seriously threatening their health and safety."
"Lack of adequate safeguards and protection for workers dealing with substances as dangerous as lead and arsenic cannot be tolerated," he said. He said the fines should be seen as "clear signal to all employers."
Gerald Greenwald, chairman of Chrysler's Chrysler Motors Corp. subsidiary, said his company had been caught up in "a new vigor" by OSHA in enforcing the law and its focus on Chrysler as one of its first targets.
"You might say that it's our time in the barrel," Greenwald said.
"We know that OSHA discovered high lead levels in blood samples of two employes at Newark and we have taken steps to improve the monitoring of the soldering and paint booths and the employes that work there," he said.
Greenwald called most of the violations "relatively minor electrical and mechanical safeguarding discrepancies" and said "a majority have been addressed."
He maintained that Chrysler's working conditions "have been the safest in the auto industry."
In January, Chrysler agreed to pay OSHA a fine of $284,830 -- until yesterday the largest ever collected by the agency -- for health and safety record violations at the Newark, Belvidere and Twinsburg plants.
The new fines follow the indictment of Chrysler and two of its executives last month by a federal grand jury in St. Louis on conspiracy and fraud charges for allegedly disconnecting odometers on cars driven by company officials and later selling the vehicles as new.
Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca last week apologized to the buyers of those cars and promised to extend the warranties on the vehicles and replace those damaged in testing.
In addition to 225 instances of exposing workers to arsenic and lead, Chrysler was cited yesterday for 48 willful violations of the "employe right to know law" by deliberately not telling workers of dangerous chemicals in their work areas.
Chrysler also is accused of 65 willful violations on personal protective equipment and fire and electrical protection, Each of which could lead to a $10,000 fine.
Chrysler also was cited for 310 "serious" violations involving failure to provide workers with protective equipment or warn them of chemical hazards and noise standards. Serious violations can carry a penalty of up to $1,000 each, but Chrysler was fined $47,500 for all of them.
OSHA also fined Chrylser $600 for 163 "other than serious violations." The fines levied yesterday total $1,576,100. OSHA's largest previous fine was $1,377,700 against Union Carbide Corp. last year for 221 alleged health and safety violations at its Institute, W.Va., chemical plant. Union Carbide has contested the penalty.