Ultium Faces $270K in Penalties Over Health, Safety Violations

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Ultium Cells is facing $270,091 in penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company for 19 health and safety violations.

OSHA conducted four separate inspections in less than two weeks from April 24 to May 5 after an explosion and fire at the Lordstown plant in March.

OSHA investigators said they found that the plant, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, had violated safety regulations in multiple areas. OSHA cited Ultium for “17 serious and two other-than-serious safety and health violations,” according to a news release Thursday.

According to the release, OSHA inspectors found the company exposed workers to machine and chemical hazards by failing to use and train workers on safety and emergency response procedures. The agency also said Ultium Cells did not comply with federally required safety standards for the use of personal protective equipment, including respirators.

OSHA inspectors said they found the company failed to do the following:

  • Periodically test energy control procedures for various equipment.
  • Install required machine guarding.
  • Train workers in hazardous energy control procedures.
  • Provide safe access and egress for packing employees, who were exposed to trip and fall hazards.
  • Train workers in emergency response operations, including the release of hazardous N-Methylpyrrolidone. 
  • Coordinate emergency responses with an incident response system.
  • Provide respiratory protection from exposure to hazardous chemicals that can cause numbness, dizziness and nausea.
  • Train workers on the physical and health risks of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace.
  • Provide safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals.
  • Store chemicals in labeled containers.
  • Select appropriate personal protective equipment and provide training on the use of PPE for potential exposure to chemical hazards, such as electrolyte and dried coating material. 
  • Provide eyewash stations, emergency showers and hand protection.
  • Inform employees of their right to report workplace injuries and illnesses.
  • Allow an employee to freely report an injury.

In addition to the proposed penalties, OSHA also issued the company a hazard alert letter, asking it to voluntarily reduce accumulations of metal dust and protect employees from unsafe metal dust exposure.

“Ultium Cells’ technology and advanced manufacturing facilities are part of a new and emerging field, but workplace safety standards – such as machine guarding, personal protective equipment and emergency response training – have been the law for decades,” said Howard Eberts, OSHA area director in Cleveland. “The company’s focus on the future must include an emphasis on workplace safety to ensure the well-being of its employees.”

Ultium Cells has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. 

“Ultium Cells received a letter from OSHA notifying us of multiple citations on October 5, 2023,” Ultium said in a statement. “Our commitment to safety is paramount, and we make it a point to work closely and collaboratively with state and federal officials, as well as our local union leadership, to ensure we are operating in accordance with all relevant regulations. We take safety seriously and have requested a hearing with OSHA, which is the next step in this process.”

“We look forward to a constructive dialogue with OSHA and hope to resolve these issues quickly and reinforce our commitment to fostering a safety-first mindset among all Ultium team members,” the company added.

OSHA currently has one open inspection at the plant after a June 27 fire, and three inquiries, including a report that the company exposed workers to airborne chemicals in the cathode mixing area after a pressure gauge failed on Aug. 20, resulting in battery slurry leaking onto the plant floor.

Since the plant began battery cell production in August 2022, OSHA has cited it 11 times.

Pictured at top: Photo by Gene J. Puskar (Associated Press)

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.