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The US Department of Labor discovers an EV battery manufacturer put its workers at risk of serious health hazards following an investigation into a fire at the facility


OSHA has proposed only $75,449 in penalties, an amount set by federal statute.

Joshua Turner, OSHA Area Office Director in Atlanta-East, expressed his concern over the company's repeated violations.




SK Innovation, South Korea's pioneering oil refining company since 1962, is involved in a wide range of businesses such as exploration and production (E&P) and batteries. It is the proud owner of SK Energy, the top refining company in South Korea, SK Global Chemical, SK Lubricants, SK Incheon Petrochem, SK Trading International and SK IE Technology.


In a press release on September 21, 2020, SK Innovation announced its ambitious plans to hire over 1,000 skilled American workers by the end of 2021. With the invaluable support of the State of Georgia, Jackson County, and the City of Commerce, the company was geared up for the initial production at its first electric vehicle battery plant in Commerce, located about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta. This project not only marked a significant milestone for SK Innovation but assumed to positioned Georgia to be a major global player in the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries.


"If you drive along I-85 northeast of Atlanta, you can't miss the progress taking shape at the new SK Innovation facilities in Jackson County. With today's announcements, SK Innovation is well on their way to fulfilling the $2.6 billion investment commitment and 2,600 promised jobs they will create in our state," said Commissioner Pat Wilson of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. "We thank our partners at Georgia Quick Start and Lanier Technical College for providing the specialized training for so many local employees and our area economic development partners for their commitment to success. The electric vehicle battery plant underway in Commerce will put Georgia in the driver's seat for the next era of the auto industry and ensure our economy keeps growing at a time when we need jobs most."


In a surprising turn of events, a recent workplace safety inspection conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that the company, which had hired over 3000 employees for its two battery manufacturing plants in Commerce, exposed its workers to grave safety and health risks.


In December of 2023, SK Battery was cited by OSHA for endangering workers who handle cobalt, nickel, and total dust by allowing exposure levels to exceed the Permissible Exposure Limit. Additionally, the company failed to put in place practical administrative or engineering controls to mitigate these risks, along with other safety hazards. During the inspection in December 2023, it was also discovered that employees were subjected to excessive levels of occupational noise, and the employer neglected to establish a monitoring program and conduct audiometric testing.





OSHA said the company had exposed employees "working with cobalt, nickel and manganese to respiratory hazards by failing to complete a workplace hazard assessment; ensure employees were given clean, disinfected and sanitary respirators; and store respirators properly."


The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited SK Battery America Inc. with six serious violations and one other-than-serious violation after finding the company:

• Subjected employees to continuous noise levels exceeding the 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 A-weighted decibels by not developing a monitoring program, nor establishing an audiometric testing program, including a valid baseline audiogram.

• Exposed employees working with cobalt, nickel and manganese to respiratory hazards by failing to complete a workplace hazard assessment; ensure employees were given clean, disinfected and sanitary respirators; and store respirators properly to protect them from material contamination.

• Failed to make certain that people working with corrosive materials had access to eyewash stations and emergency showers.

• Left workers handling bags of nickel powder vulnerable to respiratory hazards by not providing feasible administrative or engineering controls to reduce exposure levels.




Another inspection resulted in a citation that was issued in January 2024 for a hazard associated with the company’s energy control program. The company is contesting these findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


“The lithium battery industry has experienced unprecedented growth, and with that growth comes a heightened responsibility to ensure the safety of those at the forefront of innovation. SK Battery America Inc. is well aware that materials used to produce lithium batteries can cause debilitating and permanent health issues,” said OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East. “OSHA’s continued efforts to identify and remain vigilant to these emerging hazards is key in helping the industry understand how to eliminate employee exposures in the workplace. No employer should overlook the reality that is not just about advancing technology; it is about prioritizing the safety of your employees.”


Joshua Turner, OSHA Area Office Director in Atlanta-East, expressed his concern over the company's repeated violations. "On multiple occasions in less than a year, we have found SK Battery America failing in their responsibility to meet required federal standards designed to help every worker end their shift safely," said Turner. He emphasized that while emerging industries bring innovation and employment opportunities to communities, they must also prioritize employee safety. "When employers fail to provide safe and healthful workplaces," Turner added, "OSHA will hold them accountable."


The news release indicated that SK Battery was found guilty of five serious violations. These included failure to annually fit-test workers required to use tight-fitting facepiece respirators; lack of training for workers on hazardous chemicals present in their work areas; exposure of workers to inhalation hazards such as hydrofluoric acid vapors produced during lithium battery fires; and failure to ensure that their staffing agency made employees aware of the hazards associated with lithium battery fires.


Electric vehicles powered by high-voltage lithium-ion batteries can present a serious risk of electric shock to emergency responders. When these batteries are damaged, there is a potential for uncontrolled increases in temperature and pressure, known as thermal runaway, which can lead to battery reignition or fire. These risks arise from the residual energy that remains in a damaged battery.




The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has conducted investigations into several electric vehicle incidents, including crashes and non-crash fires. These incidents highlight the dangers that emergency responders face when dealing with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries. The NTSB has also examined safety standards both nationally and internationally, with a focus on the guidance provided by vehicle manufacturers to mitigate these risks for first and second responders.





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