OSHA investigation into carbon monoxide exposure at Donaldson in Stevens Point

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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) -- A regional OSHA spokesperson says the Stevens Point location of Donaldson Company is under investigation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for carbon monoxide exposure. About two dozen employees at Donaldson Company in Stevens Point reported symptoms such as nausea and headaches in the past week, according to Donaldson Company’s communications director Becky Cahn.

Donaldson in Stevens Point, November 13, 2019 (WSAW Photo)

Some of the two dozen impacted employees were medically assessed, and are now cleared to return to work. No employees were hospitalized as a result of the incident; Donaldson could not confirm any diagnoses for the employees who were medically assessed.

Donaldson leadership initiated an investigation to identify the cause of the employee illnesses, Cahn told NewsChannel 7. A non-formal complaint was made to OSHA on November 8 about carbon monoxide (CO) exposure, according to Department of Labor regional spokesperson Scott Allen. OSHA has 6 months to complete an investigation, Allen told NewsChannel 7 in an email. The company will be considered under investigation until information is considered complete; the seriousness and type of violation could be subject to change during that time.

Cahn says the company is regularly monitoring CO levels in the affected area while repairs are progressing, and that both Donaldson employees and OSHA are being updated with progress reports. Investigation of the affected area was conducted primarily by outside contractors and vendors who inspected gas lines, checked equipment, assessed sewer gases, and gas meters. Cahn says impacted systems were shut off and gas lines were closed and later repaired. There are still some repairs awaiting additional equipment. Two broken air makeup units were responsible for the CO exposure, Cahn told NewsChannel 7, and both units are currently shut off and inoperable.

The Stevens Point Donaldson Company location has had prior OSHA violations or citations, according to OSHA inspection records. There have been a total of five prior financial penalties for violations at the Stevens Point location since 2009, most of which were ranked as “serious”. Violations ranked as “serious” represent potential for bodily harm or fatality, and the maximum fine is about $13,000, although mitigating circumstances can reduce fines for a violating company. However, the most severe level of violation is a “willful” or “repeat” violation, which constitutes a deliberate disregard for OSHA standards and increases the initial penalty amount to $130,000, according to OSHA. The Stevens Point location has not had violations of this nature, according to OSHA documentation.

The Stevens Point branch of the Minneapolis-headquartered filtration systems company employs 435 people. Donaldson Company has locations in more than 40 countries, according to its website, and generators $2.85 billion in revenue. The company serves customers in aerospace, agriculture, construction, food and beverage, manufacturing and transportation industries.

NewsChannel 7 has reached out to the employee’s union at the Stevens Point Donaldson Company location for comment, and will update this article if we receive a response.

Part of Donaldson’s statement:

In the past week, around two dozen employees shared they weren’t feeling well, experiencing headaches and nausea. Our EHS and plant leadership started an investigation to identify root cause. Much of the diagnostic work was performed by outside contractors and vendors who inspected gas lines, checked equipment, assessed sewer gases, read gas meters, and more. Equipment repairs have been identified, affected systems were shut off and gas lines were closed and later repaired; additional equipment repairs are pending as our vendor awaits the necessary parts. As a cautionary measure, CO levels in the affected area are being regularly monitored while repairs are in progress.

Donaldson takes the safety of its employees seriously and is diligently taking further preventative actions to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. Additionally, Donaldson supervisors are providing regular updates to the employee base.