WASHINGTON — The Labor Department today fined the Chrysler Corp. more than $1.5 million, the stiffest such penalty ever assessed, for 811 alleged health and safety violations at its Newark, Del., automobile assembly plant.
Officials in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Chrysler has agreed to pay the fine but has not admitted breaking the law.
As the result of a January inspection at the plant, OSHA officials said they found 225 "willful" or deliberate violations of the law in which workers were exposed to hazardous levels of lead or arsenic.
Overexposure to lead can damage the central nervous system and, in sufficient quantities, cause death. Arsenic also is a lethal chemical and a potential carcinogen.
OSHA Administrator John A. Pendergrass called the fine "the only possible response to a totally unacceptable situation."
OSHA launched its inspection of the 4,000-worker Newark plant after concluding that Chrysler deliberately underreported job injuries at it and two other plants in Illinois and Ohio in 1985 and 1986.
Shortly after the inspection began, Chrysler agreed to pay a reduced fine of $284,830--until today the largest ever collected by OSHA--for what company officials then called "record-keeping" violations.
The company maintained at the time that it had the best safety record of the Big Three auto makers and did not admit the alleged violations in that settlement, which reduced the $910,000 penalty originally sought.
Employees Not Advised
In addition to 225 instances of exposing workers to arsenic and lead, Chrysler was cited today for 48 willful violations of the "employee right to know law" by deliberately not telling workers of dangerous chemicals in their work areas.
The company also is accused of 65 willful violations dealing with personal protective equipment and fire and electrical protection. Each willful violation can carry a fine of up to $10,000.
Chrysler also was cited for 310 separate "serious" violations involving failure to provide workers with protective equipment and to warn them of chemical hazards and noise standards. Serious violations can carry a penalty of up to $1,000 each, but Chrysler was fined only $47,500 for all of the serious citations listed today.
The largest fine ever assessed previously by OSHA was $1,377,700 against Union Carbide Corp. last year for 221 alleged health and safety violations at its Institute, W.Va., chemical plant.