Lead – it’s a serious issue, but…

By Nathan Barton

This came across my desk while I’ve been on the road for more than two weeks now.

An indoor range in Texas has been fined by OSHA because its employees have been exposed to unsafe levels of lead.

U.S. Department of Labor Cites Texas Indoor Gun Range
For Exposing Employees to Unsafe Lead Levels

KILLEEN, TX – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Tap Rack Bang Indoor Shooting Range LLC – operating as The Gun Range – for exposing employees to unsafe levels of lead at its facility in Killeen, Texas. The employer faces penalties totaling $214,387.

OSHA investigated the shooting range in August 2018 after receiving a complaint of worker exposure to lead during firing range activities. Inspectors found airborne lead exceeding the permissible exposure limit, and lead contamination on surfaces throughout the facility. OSHA cited the company for failing to replace damaged personal protective equipment, and medically monitor employees for lead-related illnesses; and for sweeping up lead debris rather than using vacuum methods with high-efficiency particulate air filters.

OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Lead addresses lead hazards in the workplace. Inspections focus on hygiene facilities, engineering controls, respiratory protection, exposure monitoring, and medical surveillance. Employers are required to monitor their facilities to ensure workplace health and safety hazards are controlled.  OSHA also has a QuickCard® to educate employers and workers on how to prevent lead exposure.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

 

Now, lead is a serious issue, important for health and the environment.  It wasn’t just the employees that were exposed to the high levels of lead in the air and on the surface of the place.  It was the customers, the users of the gun range, as well.

I do not dispute the seriousness of the situation.

What I do find to be reprehensible is the “solution.”  Almost certainly, the fine of more than $200K will cause the place to go under: to go bankrupt. The employees may get treatment for their exposure under Worker’s Compensation rules and insurance.  The customers will get nothing.  The contamination will probably not get cleaned up and the building will be unusable, probably even unable to be sold.

Eventually, it will be demolished and the rubble, and even the soil itself, will be carted away to a hazardous wastes landfill, probably at a cost of hundreds of thousands, and likely more than a million dollars.

Who will pay for that?  The company will likely be bankrupt: the property will have reverted to ownership of a bank, most likely.  (There is, no doubt, a mortgage on it.) Or to the county for failure to pay property taxes.  Banks are good at avoiding things like this, and likely will not pay any of their own money.

Most likely, who will pay for this cleanup?  Look in a mirror, and have all the people of Kilgore and its county look in a mirror.  It will be taxpayers: county, State of Texas, and Federal, who get stuck with the bill.

(“But wait,” you ask, “that $214K fine will go towards that, won’t it?” No, not a dime.  That goes to the Federal general fund to be spent on paying interest and fedgov worker salaries and all the rest.  Maybe a tiny sliver of a penny of that fine would “offset” the hundreds of thousands of Federal taxpayers’ money stolen and used for the clean-up of this site.

But that is what WE, “the people” through our elected representatives (Congress), have “decided” is the “best way” to handle a situation like this.  The company (please note again) is an LLC: their liability for a mess like this is limited.  Very limited.  Their insurance company also is highly unlikely to even cover environmental damage like this (though they may cover medical costs of the workers – including likely the owner-employees of the LLC).

And it will take years of litigation and investigation and permitting while this building rots in the climate of that part of Texas, and potentially, lead spreads through the area.  EPA and Texas CEQ will get involved of course (and probably already are), and they will extract their pound of flesh in the forms of more fines and fees and more bureaucracy, while nothing is done about the problem of the lead itself.

But those bureaucrats will ultimately take actions to get the place cleaned up and disposed of, at the expense of the taxpayers.  And to the enrichment of bureaucrats and the Beltway-Bandit type companies that get the contracts for investigation and mitigation (clean-up) and removal, and testing, and all the rest.  At prices marked up like so many government contracts to many times what true private enterprise could do the work for.

Meanwhile the users of the range, which provided a valuable “public service” for which people were willing to voluntarily pay for, will get nothing.  Either for their exposure or for their lack of the services provided.

Which of course, points to what could and should have been done.  Such hazards and the risks associated with lead (indoors or outdoors) are well known, quantifiable, and able to be dealt with. That can in turn lead directly to what is needed to prevent such things, and could have been part of the insurance package: the liability package, that any responsible business owner has – and would have whether or not government forced them to do so. (I know, there are a lot of irresponsible owners and operators out there that don’t do what they should. That is where the market and information-sharing comes in.) And people should be held responsible, by both themselves and their customers and business partners.

Government rules and regulations have demonstrated for decades – even centuries – that they do NOT work. Indeed, the more government, the worse the situation has been. (Consider the Soviet Union, China, and eastern Europe.)  It is time to try something else, isn’t it?

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (christian), Pahasapan, Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer.
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