Fraser Shipyards of Superior will pay a $700,000 fine and develop a new safety plan in exchange for not having to admit fault or liability for violations alleged to have taken place during its repowering of the freighter Herbert C. Jackson in 2016.
The project was heralded as the first repowering of a ship at the Twin Ports’ only remaining shipyard since the 1980s. But the story changed quickly last March, when work on the project was temporarily halted as workers were sent for lead exposure testing.
Fraser was alleged to have overexposed workers to lead during the extraction of the old engine. Following an investigation, the shipyard was cited last summer by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 14 violations and slapped with a $1.395 million fine. Fraser appealed, resulting in a settlement conference that saw the penalty reduced by about half.
“We appreciate the opportunity to work with OSHA and respect their oversight as well as our joint commitment to the health and safety of all workers at Fraser,” said James Farkas, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Industries, which oversees the shipyard.
The settlement conference with OSHA included the participation of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which represents workers at Fraser.
In May, a welder, 48-year-old James Holder, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Madison, seeking damages in excess of $75,000 for what he claimed was exposure to toxic levels of lead while performing work at Fraser on the Jackson. A trial in that case has been scheduled for more than a year from now, in February 2018. Rob Karwath, a spokesman for Fraser, said the OSHA settlement is a separate matter not affecting the ongoing civil case.
The agreement with OSHA included input from all three parties, including the union, Farkas said in a news release.
“This agreement … ensures that we can move forward with a strong commitment to employee protection and business viability,” Farkas said.
Fraser has been in Superior for 126 years.
As part of the settlement, Fraser will establish a safety management plan that will include additional worker protections. It will work directly with OSHA for three years, and will include the union in ongoing safety reviews. Fraser will also be subject to two independent health and safety audits over the next two years.
Fraser provides “valuable employment,” said Mark Garrett, director of health and safety services for the Boilermakers, who said he was pleased with the settlement agreement.
“We have appreciated Fraser’s responsiveness to working with us to get this issue resolved,” he said in the news release.
The presence of lead paint on work areas and surfaces temporarily halted work on the Jackson repowering project last March. Fraser responded with additional safety precautions, including improved ventilation. The News Tribune reported in August that 20 of the workers on the project were pursuing workers’ compensation claims for injuries related to lead exposure.
Work aboard the Jackson was the fifth engine replacement or overhaul for Ohio's Interlake Steamship Co. since 2006. The ship passed its sea trials in September - three months later than first anticipated - before going back into service.
“Our business depends on taking the health and safety of our people seriously,” Farkas said in the news release.