KC Plant roundtable alleged scary safety lapses

Chemical spills. Buried drums of unknown substances. Teflon poisoning. PCB drippings. Mold. These are just some of the cringe-inducing details included in a Department of Labor summary of information gathered from workers and former workers of Honeywell’s Kansas City Plant, where non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons have been manufactured for the last 60 years (Honeywell is the subject of this week’s Pitch feature story).

The roundtable meeting occurred in Overland Park on October 4-5, 2006, before representatives from the DOL’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. The meeting included a wide range of workers, including machinists, electrical assemblers, carpenters, clerks, drafting specialists, welders, union officers, pipefitters, painters, OSHA instructors and plastic fabricators, just to name a few. They reported having worked with more than fifty toxic substances including benzene, beryllium, DDT pesticide, fiberglass, formaldehyde and “radioactive sources.”

Some highlights from the meeting’s notes:

  • No worker reported having hazardous material training prior to the late 1990s.
  • Machinists reported receiving machine safety instructions, e.g., not to wear long-sleeve shirts when using machine shop tools, but no hazardous material training except how to put labels on chemical containers.
  • An electronic assembler stated that one-time lessons learned training was provided following an explosion in the mid-to-late 1980s in which five firefighters were killed.

  • Protection against toxic material exposure was described as ranging from no protection and the wearing of Tyvek/paper protective clothing during certain production operations, to limited use of respiratory protection.

  • A process engineer indicated that HEPA vacuums were not used at beryllium machine tools until around year 2000.

  • A machinist indicated that respiratory protection was not required during machining until 2000, and that it was routine practice for machinists to work in the same clothes they wore home.

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