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Fraser Shipyards settles case involving 'hot work' safety

Fraser Shipyards has made voluntary safety enhancements and will pay a reduced fine to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration as it settles a case related to employee protection in so-called "hot work" environments, according to a news release issued Monday by the Superior shipyard.

The case stemmed from a Feb. 6 incident in which Fraser team member, Joseph Burch, was burned while working with an open flame on a vessel undergoing repairs in the Duluth-Superior harbor. Burch, a 22-year Fraser veteran, was hospitalized. He died April 8.

According to family members, he never recovered from the burns and suffered multiple infections related to them.

The citation, obtained by WDIO-TV, noted "serious" violations from what OSHA said was the use of "defective or damaged personal protective equipment" and not ensuring "that employees used appropriate hand protection or protective clothing when exposed to hazards."

It stated that during work in the ballast tank or cargo hold of the freighter Roger Blough in February, "employees performing work with a hand-held torch were not adequately protected from molten metal, sparks, fire or flame" because jackets and coveralls were not fire-retardant — something that was corrected during the OSHA inspection. The citation also stated that protective clothing "was allowed to have holes and frayed fabric" — a violation the agency said must be abated by April 13.

The federal agency proposed a penalty of $12,548, according to the documents obtained by WDIO.

Fraser has voluntarily put in place new rules requiring that all workers who may encounter sparks, flames or similar conditions wear fire-retardant suits. It also agreed to pay a $7,530 fine, a 40 percent reduction from the original citation, and will be subject to no finding of wrongdoing in the case.

"We want to enhance the safety of all Fraser team members who are involved directly in hot work or any work that may come close to such an environment," said James Farkas, president and Chief Operating Officer of Fraser Industries, which oversees Fraser Shipyards. "That is why we have made these voluntary changes and worked quickly to resolve this case with OSHA."

Earlier this year, Fraser reached an agreement with OSHA to pay a $700,000 fine and to make other safety improvements to settle a case related to employee exposure to lead from paint and other sources during the repowering and refurbishing of the Herbert C. Jackson, a 57-year-old Great Lakes freighter. That agreement, and Fraser's steps since then, have been made in consultation with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the union that represents many of the workers at Fraser.

Fraser, founded in 1890 in Superior, is the last major independent shipyard on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. Fraser has built and repaired vessels of all kinds for more than 126 years. Its facilities and equipment accommodate all types of marine vessels. For more information, visit frasershipyards.com.

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