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The Nelcon gravel pit

The Nelcon gravel pit along Highway 212 south of Laurel on Aug. 25, 2017. Nelcon faces a potential quarter-million dollar fine for numerous workplace safety violations that have occurred at the Laurel construction project.

A Montana construction company faces $261,000 in fines after three of its workers were burned by hot oil at a mobile asphalt plant in Laurel in October, according to citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last month.

The April 17 citations state that Kalispell-based Nelcon Inc., a contractor hired by the Montana Department of Transportation to complete highway work near Laurel, racked up more than two dozen health and safety violations identified by federal investigators.

Nelcon’s work at the construction site has previously been the subject of sanctions from the federal safety agency. In 2017, the company was cited for multiple violations after construction equipment was found to have tipped over into a gravel pit filled with water.

The most recent citations include violations stemming from an Oct. 25 incident in which Nelcon employees suffered second- and third-degree burns while pouring oil into a heating container used as part of the asphalt-mixing process. Oil heated to 450 degrees reacted with cooler oil and spilled onto the workers, according to the citation.

OSHA has proposed tens of thousands of dollars in fines related to the incident, which was compounded by Nelcon’s failure to provide personal protective equipment for workers’ eyes, faces and hands.

The company also failed to report the hospitalizations of its workers within the 24-hour time frame mandated by federal law, according to the citations.

The safety citation also alleges that “employees were exposed to caught-in and amputation hazards” identified during a follow-up inspection on Oct. 29. Federal inspectors also found the company exposed workers to “fall hazards” on unguarded, elevated platforms and other parts of the site.

The agency’s inspectors say they also observed workers entering a confined “barrel drum mixer” to clean the equipment and perform maintenance, where they were “exposed to potentially flammable and/or oxygen-deficient atmospheres.”

Additional violations include more amputation risks, exposure to potential explosions and fires due to an uncapped acetylene tank stored outside the maintenance trailer and exposure to electrical shocks due to incorrectly installed equipment.

Beyond the safety violations, OSHA also issued a health citation that found Nelcon in violation of requirements to provide facilities for flushing eyes and skin that have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, and to properly label hazardous chemicals and train employees on their safe use.

A request for comment from Nelcon was not returned Wednesday.

The company had 15 working days from the receipt of the citations either to contest OSHA’s findings or to correct the violations.

Whether Nelcon has contested any of the violations is unclear. OSHA’s Billings-area director, Art Hazen, referred questions to Department of Labor spokesman Jose Carnevali.

Carnevali did not respond to a list of emailed questions, instead requesting anonymity to discuss the status of the citations.

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Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.