COOS BAY — Bay Area Athletic Club has been fined nearly $200,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to documents obtained by The World.
The $195,300 failure-to-abate penalty brings the total violations for the Coos Bay-based gym to $574,110.
The most recent fine stemmed from a failure to provide proper emergency eyewash and shower facilities, with the original violation dating back to Sept. 14 of 2015.
The proposed daily penalty is $300 until the violation is corrected.
Oregon OSHA Public Information Officer Aaron Corvin said that daily penalty is why the number had ballooned to such a high amount.
“This has gone on for some two years and the employer continues to fail to fix this,” he added.
OSHA inspectors noted the athletic club's setup for washing out potentially dangerous chemicals was a hose — cut off at the end and angled up.
In a document detailing the violation, inspectors noted the types of chemicals employees would have handled ranged from hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite, among other “extreme pH” chemicals.
During the first inspection, the only eye protection found on premises were swim goggles, which OSHA deemed inadequate because "they did not seal tightly enough to the face to prevent the entry of chemicals from the side."
Bay Area purchased face shields after the inspection but employees were never instructed how to use them, according to court documents.
OSHA also determined that mandatory safety meetings were not being held as required, partially because President Mark McPeek did not want to pay employees for spending time in meetings.
Bay Area Athletic Club employees directed questions to McPeek, who said a meeting involving all 40 of his staff was too difficult to coordinate because employees worked vastly different hours.
"I have people who work the night shift here who my morning people don't even see," he added.
The agency eventually took McPeek and Bay Area to court in a hearing before Oregon’s Workers’ Compensation Board, where the administrative law judge, Claudette McWilliams, ruled against the Coos Bay gym.
In her April 2017 decision, McWilliams found that OSHA satisfied its burden of proof regarding the violations, and noted that McPeek failed to take corrective action, which was corroborated by at least two of his employees.
The judge noted McPeek’s uncooperative manner regarding fall protection as well, citing an email he sent to employee Kelly Sharp, who told the court she and a co-worker were instructed by McPeek not to correct the violation.
McWilliams pointed to McPeek having employees complete work on Bay Area’s roof and areas 20 feet above the gym’s racquetball courts without proper safety precautions. According to court documents, one employee fell through the roof to his waist in a “spongy” spot.
McPeek denies the incident occurred.
The infraction was characterized as a low-death violation with a proposed penalty of $107,520.
McPeek’s resistance to complying with OSHA regulations is documented in the cited email with Sharp, the judge argued.
“Second of all, we have no OSHA issues and we are not going to install the eyewash,” McPeek wrote in the email. “We’re not going to buy rubber suits and boots. We have face and eye and rubber gloves protection for the employees already on site — it’s right next door to the pool check area. It (has) always been there. Now call Tom from (OSHA) and have them email me immediately, we are not doing anything for fall protection, tell them to (obscenity) themselves blue…”
In another email, McPeek again showed resistance.
“Once again, nothing at all for OSHA,” he wrote, “at this point, not one thing.”
According to Corvin, McPeek is appealing the previous violations that total roughly $350,000.
McPeek said he will do the same with the most recent failure-to-abate penalty. Bay Area has thirty days from the issuance of the violation to do so.
In her ruling against Bay Area, Judge McWilliams described McPeek as “a large man with an intimidating presence who has used profanity and coarse language in communicating with his staff.”
She said the weight of testimony pointed to McPeek attempting to manipulate testimony and the production of evidence through intimidation.
McPeek denied these characterizations and accusations, accusing the agency of attempting to intimidate him.
"They're just attempting to slander me," he said. "They want to make me the bad guy."
Corvin described the behavior from McPeek as somewhat bizarre.
“I would say it's unusual — this type of attitude — particularly if you are looking at an eyewash station which is a relatively easy fix,” Corvin said, adding that the equipment cost less than the original $300 fine. “This isn't difficult. This isn’t rocket science. Too many days have passed for it to have reached this point...our main concern is hazards are corrected.
“People have the right to a safe and healthy workplace.”
McPeek insisted that he cares about his employees' safety, arguing some would not have worked for him for over 20 years if he did not.
He said he plans to sue Oregon OSHA over the allegations and accused the agency of being corrupt.
"OSHA is the biggest, most fraudulent organization for a government bureaucracy that I can even imagine."