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September 27, 2010

The Camden, NJ urban-style clothing manufacturer, Miskeen Originals LLC, is in trouble with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after the government agency responded to an employee complaint about unsafe working conditions and found violations, including exposure of workers to potentially cancer-causing methylene chloride.

An inspection of Miskeen Originals by OSHA personnel found one willful violation with a penalty of $28,000, 12 serious violations with a $15,150 penalty and 7 other-than-serious violations, which carry no penalty for a total fine of $43,150.

Miskeen Originals specializes in urban style clothing. According to company website, such stars as Busta Rhymes, Jamal Woodlard, Tio, Paul Wall, Fat Joe, Trick Daddy, Chris Brown, The Game, Ludacris and Lil John wear Miskeen street wear.

OSHA issued the willful violation because Miskeen Originals failed to provide obstruction free, unlocked emergency exits. A willful violation is one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employees’ safety and health.

The serious violations included employee overexposure to methylene chloride, failing to provide personal protective equipment, conduct a personal protective equipment assessment, evaluate respiratory hazards, properly monitor for methylene chloride, conduct medical evaluations for respirators, provide eyewash, train employees on how to use fire extinguishers, establish a regulated area for employees exposed to methylene chloride and implement effective engineering controls. OSHA defines a violation as serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

"Employees exposed to methylene chloride are at increased risk of developing cancer; adverse effects on the heart, central nervous system and liver; and skin or eye irritation," said Paula Dixon-Roderick, director of OSHA’s area office in Marlton, N.J. "These hazards need to be corrected immediately to protect the safety and health of workers at the plant."

Methylene chloride, also called dichloromethane, is a volatile, colorless liquid with a mild, sweet odor similar to chloroform, used as a solvent in industrial and manufacturing applications.

The primary route of exposure to methylene chloride is inhalation of contaminated air due to poor ventilation. In animal studies, inhalation of methylene chloride increases liver and lung cancer and benign mammary gland tumors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers it a probable cancer-causing agent in humans.

People suffering from exposure to small amounts of Methylene chloride may become less attentive and less accurate in tasks requiring hand-eye coordination. Effects on those breathing large amounts of the chemical include unsteadiness, dizziness, nausea and a tingling or numbness of finger and toes.

Some of the other-than-serious violations include failing to properly record injuries and illnesses, provide a written respirator and hazard communications program, maintain required material safety data sheets for each hazardous chemical at the facility, and failing to ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals was properly identified and labeled. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

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