The Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday fined General Dynamics Corp.'s Electric Boat Division $615,000 for 122 allegedly willful violations of recordkeeping rules for reporting work-related accidents and injuries.
OSHA, the division of the Department of Labor responsible for guarding the safety of U.S. workers, charged the Quonset Point, R.I., shipbuilding facility with 121 instances of unrecorded or misrecorded injuries and illnesses in 1985 and 1986 and proposed a fine of $5,000 for each violation.
The proposed penalties also included a $10,000 fine for an additional violation in which Electric Boat failed to report more detailed information about 53 other serious injuries and illnesses.
A General Dynamics official called the penalty an example of "highly excessive fines against companies nationwide for 'paperwork' violations" and said the company will contest the citations through OSHA's appeal procedure.
"Not a single OSHA finding relates to safety or health hazards in the work place, and we believe that the amount of the fine is unreasonable relative to the alleged record-keeping deficiencies," William W. Bennett, division vice president and general manager of the Quonset Point facility, said in a statement.
OSHA said the injuries and illnesses that were not properly recorded included sprains, strains, lacerations, contusions, fractures, abrasions, burns inflammations, dermatitis and eye injuries, including flash burns.
The fine levied against the nation's biggest defense contractor is the latest in a series of citations handed out recently by OSHA, which had been criticized for its lack of activity during the Reagan administration. In the past 10 days, the agency has fined IBP Inc., the nation's largest meatpacking company, $2.59 million -- OSHA's largest fine in its 16-year history -- and Uretek Inc., a firm specializing in fabric coating, almost $500,000.
OSHA earlier this month also fined Chrysler Corp more than $1.5 million and Union Carbide Corp. $408,000 for willfully exposing workers to dangerous substances. In all, the agency crackdown has resulted in 18 fines of more than $100,000 each over the last 16 months.
Bennett said he is concerned about the growing frequency and amount of the fines OSHA has been levying since the agency last year changed the way it handles fines. He said he is considering arranging a meeting of OSHA officials and Rhode Island industry leaders to clarify agency requirements.
"This citation cites irregularities in past years, but does not recognize the changes incorporated in our current procedures, which respond to the recent OSHA change in interpretation of their guidelines," Bennett said. "In reviews and investigations during the past 13 years, OSHA has given us no reason to believe that we were not satisfying their requirements."
OSHA chief John A. Pendergrass said the agency considers health records kept by companies to be important information in policy making. "Employers must be aware of the importance OSHA places on the accuracy and validity of the injury and illness logs," he said in a statement. "The logs provide vital information for both employers and employes in identifying and correcting potential workplace hazards."
The Electric Boat plant, which employs about 58,000 workers, manufactures components for the Trident and the SSN 688-class fast-attack submarines.
OSHA began its inspection of the submarine-building facility Jan. 29 in response to a worker complaint that the company's injury and illness logs were not available for employes to inspect as required by OSHA regulations.
Steve Perry, an Electric Boat employe who helped the worker prepare his complaint, said few workers believed the company's claims that it had an excellent health record. "It was obvious because of the number of bodies on compensation and the number of ambulances running down the streets that it just wasn't so."
OSHA press officer Susan H. Fleming said the first step in the appeals process generally involves trying to work out an informal settlement. If that fails, she said, the case goes before an administrative law judge, and then, if either side decides to appeal, successively to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an appeals court and then to higher courts.