OSHA Finds Serious Safety Violations at SK Battery America Plant Following Battery Fire

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has uncovered alarming safety breaches at the SK Battery America plant in the aftermath of a lithium battery fire. This development, coming on the heels of a federal investigation, has raised urgent concerns about the safety standards within the electric vehicle battery manufacturing sector.

The investigation, prompted by an October 2023 lithium battery fire at the Commerce, GA, plant, has revealed egregious lapses in safety protocols. OSHA inspectors found SK Battery America culpable of failing to adequately train its workforce to navigate the hazardous aftermath of the incident. Multiple workers suffered potentially irreversible respiratory damage due to exposure to toxic fumes.

The violations

Among the serious violations cited by OSHA are:

  • Exposing workers to inhalation hazards, including hydrofluoric acid vapors, by neglecting to establish a comprehensive emergency response plan.

  • Failing to ensure that the staffing agency, Moveret Inc., informed its workers about the dangers associated with lithium battery fires.

  • Inadequate training for on-site emergency responders and fire brigade members regarding lithium battery fire hazards and treatment procedures for exposed employees.

  • Lack of training for employees on hazardous chemicals in their work areas and the means to protect themselves during lithium battery fires.

  • Neglecting to conduct annual fit-testing for workers required to utilize tight-fitting facepiece respirators.

Related:Urgent Clarity Needed: Environmental Rules for EV Sector

OSHA has imposed fines totaling over $77,000 on SK Battery America, highlighting the severity of the safety infractions. This marks the second instance within a year where the company has been found wanting in adhering to federal safety standards, signaling a systemic issue that demands immediate rectification.

Rippling repercussions

The repercussions of these safety lapses extend beyond SK Battery America. They underscore broader concerns within the battery manufacturing sector regarding employee safety and regulatory compliance. The regulatory framework governing environmental standards in this sector has yet to catch up with the rapid pace of development, posing significant challenges for EV manufacturers, as US law firm Troutman Pepper has described in detail.

The gravity of the situation necessitates urgent reforms to ensure the well-being of workers across the industry.

Joshua Turner, OSHA’s Area Office Director in Atlanta-East, underscored the importance of prioritizing worker safety, particularly in emerging industries like battery manufacturing. He emphasized that while innovation holds promise, it must not come at the expense of employee well-being. Turner’s sentiments echo the sentiments of safety advocates and industry stakeholders alike, who are calling for stringent safety measures to be implemented without delay.

Related:SK On Pushes Smart Battery Manufacturing Forward

SK On in the US

As a subsidiary of SK On, a key player in South Korea’s SK Group, SK Battery America Inc. holds a significant stake in the burgeoning electric vehicle battery market. With approximately 3,100 employees at its Commerce plants, the company’s commitment to safety is paramount in shaping the future of battery technology.

The company has other US manufacturing sites in development:

  • BlueOval SK is a joint venture between Ford and SK On to manufacture batteries in Glendale, KY, and Stanton, TN, for Ford and Lincoln EVs.

  • SK On and Hyundai Motor Group plan a joint venture in April in Bartow County, GA, for Hyundai and Kia EVs.

  • SK On and Westwater Resources signed an agreement in 2023 to develop anode materials tailored to batteries produced at SK On’s US plants.

The findings of the OSHA investigation serve as a wake-up call for the battery manufacturing sector. The safety of workers must take precedence over all other considerations, and concerted efforts are needed to ensure that industry-wide reforms are swiftly enacted to prevent future tragedies.

Related:SK On Opens Battery Safety Evaluation Center