Union Bridge cement plant cited in safety failure


Federal officials issued two occupational safety citations to Lehigh Portland Cement in Union Bridge last week for failing to install an air monitoring system and having an incomplete emergency evacuation plan, plant manager David Roush confirmed.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration citations stem from a Sept. 1 incident in which two people were sent to Carroll County General Hospital after breathing fumes caused by the incomplete combustion of fuel used to heat the kilns. Both were treated and released.

It was the fourth time this year that employees were affected by fumes at the plant.

James Petrie, mine safety agency manager for the northeast district, said the federal office issued citations rather than a warning because Lehigh had not complied with recommendations made after two similar incidents in April.

"We recommended the air monitoring system back in April and it was not installed," Mr. Petrie said.

The emergency plan citation was issued because an employee entered the affected area after the evacuation without protective gear.

Mr. Roush, however, called the citation unfair because the company did not receive the recommendation for air monitoring until early August. Although company officials had been told of ,, the agency's recommendations, they wait until receiving the formal report before making a decision.

Unless it is a violation that requires an immediate response, we always wait for the final report," he said. "Sometimes things are added to what they said to us, sometimes they don't put some things in, and other times they modify what they told us."

Also, Mr. Roush said the company should not be cited for not doing something that was only a suggestion.

"A recommendation is a recommendation, even in Washington, D.C.," he said. "It was not a requirement, just a recommendation."

Mr. Petrie acknowledged that.

"It's true that they didn't get the official report until August," he said. "But this time, they have to do this [install the air monitoring system]."

A fine, which could be $50 to $50,000, is required by federal law, Mr. Petrie said. But the fines -- which will not be assessed for several weeks -- can be negotiated during an informal conference with the administration, he said.

The company also may appeal the citation and fines to a federal administrative law judge, Mr. Petrie said.

Mr. Roush said Lehigh has not requested a conference or decided whether to appeal the citation. But Mr. Petrie said a Lehigh employee told one of his investigators the company wants a conference.

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