SK Battery America exposed workers to health hazards -US Labor Dept

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – SK Battery America exposed employees at a U.S. battery plant to unsafe levels of nickel and other metals, and faces $75,000 in fines, the U.S. Labor Department said on Wednesday.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SK Battery America with six serious violations, a subsidiary of SK Inc.

OSHA said the company had exposed employees “working with cobalt, nickel and manganese to respiratory hazards by failing to complete a workplace hazard assessment; ensure employees were given clean, disinfected and sanitary respirators; and store respirators properly.”

SK Battery America has challenged the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the department said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The lithium battery industry has experienced unprecedented growth, and with that growth comes a heightened responsibility to ensure the safety of those at the forefront of innovation,” OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East said “SK Battery America Inc is well aware that materials used to produce lithium batteries can cause debilitating and permanent health issues.”

SK Battery America, which employs 3,100 people at its two battery manufacturing plants in Commerce, Georgia, is a subsidiary of SK On, a global EV battery manufacturer and part of SK Group is the second-largest conglomerate in South Korea.

SK Battery America has invested $2.6 billion in two lithium-ion battery manufacturing facilities in Georgia that started mass production in 2022 and supply batteries for Ford Motor F-150 Lightning and Volkswagen ID.4 EVs.

In October, OSHA proposed $270,000 in fines for a General Motors and LG Energy Solution joint venture EV battery plant in Ohio for safety and health violations.

Investigators examining the cause of a March explosion and fire at the Ultium Cells plant prompted the agency to issue 19 safety and health violations, 17 of them serious.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; editing by Paul Grant and Aurora Ellis)