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Battery cell manufacturing plant faces £222,000 in fines after safety violations

17 October 2023

A manufacturer of battery cells for electric vehicles is facing penalties of up to $270,000 (£222,000) after US Department of Labor investigators identified 19 safety and health violations at a facility in Ohio, US.

Ultium Cells' facility in Warren, Ohio - Image: Ultium Cells
Ultium Cells' facility in Warren, Ohio - Image: Ultium Cells

The health and safety breaches were identified by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) while they were examining the cause of a March 2023 explosion and other safety complaints at Ultium Cells’ manufacturing plant in the city of Warren. In total, OSHA opened four separate inspections into Ultium Cells in less than a two-week period.

The inspections led the agency to cite the company for 17 serious and two other-than-serious safety and health violations. 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 learned Ultium Cells did not comply with federally required safety standards for the use of personal protective equipment, including respirators. The inspections took place between 24 April and 5 May 2023 at the plant, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution to mass produce battery cells.

OSHA has proposed $270,091 (£222,261) in penalties and issued the company a hazard alert letter asking them 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 OSHA Area Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland. "The company's focus on the future must include an emphasis on workplace safety to ensure the well-being of its employees."

Specifically, OSHA inspectors 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 labelled 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 eye wash 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.

Additionally, OSHA currently has one open inspection at the Warren facility following a 27 June 2023, 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 20 August 2023 which resulted in battery slurry leaking onto the plant floor.

Since the Warren facility began battery cell production in August 2022, OSHA has cited the plant 11 times. The company also has facilities under construction in Michigan and Tennessee.

In response to the OSHA findings, Ultium Cells said in a statement that its commitment to safety is paramount, and it would make a point to work closely and collaboratively with state and federal officials, as well as local union leadership, to ensure the company is operating in accordance with all relevant regulations. Ultium Cells added that it takes safety seriously and has requested a hearing with OSHA so that a constructive dialogue can be opened the issues resolved.

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