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Electric vehicle battery manufacturer cited for serious safety violations

16 April 2024

For the second time in less than a year, federal workplace safety inspectors have found a global electric vehicle battery manufacturer exposing employees to serious safety and health hazards at its Commerce plant, after workers suffered potentially permanent respiratory damage in an October 2023 lithium battery fire.

After investigators with the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration learned of the fire at SK Battery America, they determined the company failed to train its employees on how to protect themselves adequately in the toxic atmosphere that left multiple workers injured. The agency cited SK Battery for five serious violations after finding the company did the following:

- Exposed workers to inhalation hazards, including hydrofluoric acid vapours produced in lithium battery fires, by failing to establish a complete emergency response plan.

- Did not ensure their staffing agency, Moveret Inc., who supplied workers at the site, made their employees aware of the hazards associated with lithium battery fires.

- Failed to train on-site emergency responders and members of the fire brigade on hazards associated with lithium battery fires and equip them to treat employees exposed to such hazards.

- Did not train workers on hazardous chemicals in their work areas and a means to protect themselves from lithium battery fires.

- Failed to annually fit-test workers required to utilize tight-fitting facepiece respirators.

OSHA has assessed the company $77,200 (£62,000) in proposed penalties, an amount set by federal statute.

In December 2023, OSHA cited SK Battery for exposing employees working with cobalt, nickel, and total dust to levels above the Permissible Exposure Limit and failing to institute feasible administrative or engineering controls, among other hazards. The December 2023 inspection also found the employer exposed workers to high-levels of occupational noise and failed to implement a monitoring program and audiometric testing.

Another inspection resulted in a citation that was issued in January 2024 for a hazard associated with the company's energy control program. The company is contesting these findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

"On multiple occasions in less than a year, we have found SK Battery America failing in their responsibility to meet required federal standards designed to help every worker end their shift safely," said OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East. "While emerging industries bring innovation and employment opportunities to our communities, they must also ensure that the safety of the people they employ is their priority. When employers fail to provide safe and healthful workplaces, OSHA will hold them accountable."

A subsidiary of SK On, SK Battery America Inc. employs about 3,100 people at two battery manufacturing plants in Commerce. SK On is part of the Seoul-based SK Group, South Korea’s second-largest conglomerate with companies operating in the energy, advanced materials, biopharmaceuticals and digital industries.

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