Bath Iron Works marks start of destroyer with visit by admiral; shipyard faces OSHA fines

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BATH — With the push of a button Wednesday, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations launched the construction process for Bath Iron Works’ latest destroyer.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert visited both the shipyard and BIW’s Hardings Steel Fabrication Facility in Brunswick on Wednesday, accompanied by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who had invited him.

The visit came days after news that BIW was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for “alleged repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards,” which could result in fines of $171,300, according to a Monday news release.

Greenert’s timing allowed him to likely be the first chief of Naval operations to attend a start-of-fabrication ceremony at BIW.

“What a special privilege,” BIW President Jeff Geiger said.

A button the admiral pressed activated a plasma burning machine that cut the first piece of steel for the DDG-1002, the third in a line of Zumwalt-class destroyers being constructed at the shipyard. The ship is to be delivered to the Navy in 2018, while the first and second ships are to be delivered in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

DDG-1002 marks the 429th ship whose construction started at BIW since the shipyard’s 1884 inception.

Geiger told Greenert at a press conference later in the morning that “every one of us at BIW takes very personally our responsibility to provide your sailors with the finest ships afloat, and we look forward to doing so for many years to come.”

Collins, who praised the work already completed on the first Zumwalt-class destroyer, said she was encouraged that the U.S. Department of Defense “appears to recognize the importance of the cruiser-destroyer fleet to the Navy, even in this time of lean budgets.”

She added that President Obama’s “new strategy of focusing on the Asia Pacific region is ideal for the kind of ships that BIW builds.”

“It is a marvel of engineering, looking at the DDG-1000,” Greenert said. “I live in a world, frequently, of PowerPoint and small models, and to go out and see the three-dimension, the steel … (and) the pride of the workers in this yard, it was really, really encouraging.”

OSHA violations

BIW was cited by OSHA for “alleged repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards” after a safety inspection by OSHA’s Augusta office found multiple mechanical, fall and electrical hazards.

The shipyard faces $171,300 in proposed fines.

OSHA reported “workers were exposed to falls from a lack of fall protection as well as unguarded roof edges and floor holes and openings; tripping and fall hazards from walkways obstructed by materials, equipment, hoses and service cords; an unqualified employee operating an overhead crane; defective and uninspected lifting slings; uninspected lift trucks; unguarded electrical equipment; exposed and damaged electrical sheathing; and the improper storage of flammable chemicals.”

BIW was cited for three alleged repeat violations, incurring $93,500 in fines, and 15 serious violations, totalling fines of $77,800. The repeat violations were similar to fall and tripping hazards cited in 2008, according to OSHA.

“We’ve focused on this industry because establishments primarily engaged in ship- and boat-building and repair in the state of Maine have higher-than-average injury and illness rates,” William Coffin, OSHA’s area director for Maine, said in the news release. “A proactive, sustained, effective and ongoing effort by employers to identify and eliminate hazards such as these is necessary for employees’ safety and well-being.”

But Coffin said on Tuesday that in this most recent inspection, OSHA found BIW had violated fewer standards than before, and that concerning “the standards that were violated, we found less incidences of violation.”

BIW spokesman Jim DeMartini said OSHA’s inspection of the shipyard occurred over 17 days in October and November 2011. BIW took “immediate action to correct items pointed out in the inspection, and all items have since been abated,” he said in a statement.

DeMartini added that the shipyard is reviewing the report details and plans to ask for an informal conference with OSHA officials to talk further about the results of the inspection.

“The safety of our employees is a top priority at BIW and programs instituted over the last several years have enabled us to make good progress in reducing workplace injuries and ensuring compliance with applicable regulations,” DeMartini said. “We will continue to emphasize safety in all aspects of our business and work with OSHA to further enhance the effectiveness of these programs.”

Greenert’s visit also followed a fire that occurred at the shipyard Tuesday evening.

DeMartini said the fire was reported at 5:15 p.m. in boxes containing ventilation hoses outside a storage facility at the south end of the yard. Bath and BIW firefighters extinguished the fire, which damaged a wall of the building, but did not injure anyone.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, DeMartini said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sports a DDG-1000 cap while Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, praises the Bath Iron Works workforce during a visit to the shipyard on Wednesday.

Bath Iron Works plans to deliver the first of the DDG-1000 line of destroyers to the U.S. Navy in 2014. The forward midbody of the vessel is shown here.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.