The Department of Labor and Industries reports that a Bellevue firing range is being charged with 17 violations of health and safety regulations following a construction project and lead-salvage operation where dozens of workers were exposed to dangerous levels of toxic lead. The Seattle Times reported on the work injury case yesterday in their article Bellevue gun shop cited, fined for lead-related safety violations.
On Tuesday, L&I announced that it had fined Wade’s Eastside Gun Shop over $23,000 following a half-year investigation of one of the worst cases of workplace lead exposure in recent state history.
The alleged violations involved failure to perform air monitoring during the “mining” of lead bullet fragments from a sand berm; failure make sure that workers received regular blood tests; sweeping instead of vacuuming lead dust; and failure to ensure that construction workers used fit-tested respirators.
Eleven of the workplace safety violations were designated as serious, with four of them repeat violations from the past few years.
The gun shop and firing range is owned by Wade Gaughran; as of Tuesday evening, he had not responded to reporters to offer comment. Gaughran now has 15 business days to appeal those L&I citations. Labor and Industries spokesperson Elaine Fischer noted that the violations were especially serious not only because of the large number of affected workers, but also because the concentrations of lead in their blood were alarmingly high.
The toxic injuries occurred last fall when Gaughran’s own employees mined a sand berm, and then hired construction workers added a second floor to the gun range. The shop remained open to customers during construction.
A shocking 47 individuals who worked for Wade’s Eastside Gun Shop and the participating construction firms showed elevated levels of lead in their blood work, and 24 reported symptoms typical of lead poisoning. One of the employees had three times the allowable blood-lead level, and suffered from cramps and frequent vomiting at work, according to other employees.
Yet the damage did not stop there. Families of the workers also tested positive for excess lead (including three children and two women), possibly after exposed workers carried lead home on their clothes and tools. In February a King County public-health official stated concern about the exposure because lead is known to cause damage the nervous system, kidneys, cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal system.
Construction Site Injury
Fifteen workers are suing the gun shop on grounds that they did not receive any lead-safety training, their tasks were basically unsupervised by qualified personnel, and they were given ineffective safety gear that occasionally fell apart.
Moreover, Wade’s employees state that they were fired in retaliation for seeking blood tests or reporting concerns to government agencies. Back in February Gaughran stated that his employees’ claims were baseless, claiming that workers were given protective suits and wore the required, L&I-approved respirators.
Patrick Reddy, a workers’ compensation lawyer for two employees of Brooks Steel Fabrication, said his clients also plan to sue Wade’s, which because of its previous compliance problems, allegedly had no insurance coverage for lead exposure.