OSHA Violations at Issue in N.C. Grievance

HIGH POINT, N.C. --

The deputy fire chief who has filed a gender discrimination grievance against the city said she thinks she has been unfairly blamed for safety problems at the fire department that resulted in state fines.

Martha Younts said she is not responsible for Occupational Safety and Health Act violations by the department that were found by state Department of Labor investigators in March. She said she perceived that the violations were being pinned on her at Monday’s City Council meeting, where she went public with her accusation that City Manager Strib Boynton declined to promote her to chief due to her gender – a claim that Boynton denies.

She said that was her first inkling that her performance was being called into question, because she got a positive employee evaluation review last month that made no mention of the violations.

“I feel it’s unfair to me to get blamed for all this OSHA stuff when I had not had any bad performance evaluations and I had not been charged with this until (Monday),” said Younts.

The department was cited for 17 OSHA violations and the city paid a $57,000 penalty in a negotiated settlement with the state. Boynton said Younts had management responsibility for technical services, such as maintaining fire stations and firefighter gear, during the period when some of the violations occurred.

“Seven specific citations were essentially part of her responsibility as deputy chief of technical services. Many things regarding protective gear, eye safety, respirators, testing of respirators were under her supervision. Some were to be tested at least monthly per manufacturers’ recommendations, and they were not. Some were supposed to be done annually, and they were not” Boynton said. “Some of this stuff went back five or six years.”

Younts said no one brought any of the problems related to the violations to her attention while she oversaw technical services. She was reassigned to deputy chief of administration in January 2010.

She acknowledged that she oversaw some of the areas at issue with the violations, but said the problems had more to do with staffing shortages than negligence. For example, she had one person in her division responsible for inspecting firefighters’ respirators who missed a lot of time due to illness and had many other responsibilities when she was there.

“Now nine firefighters are doing the same job she was tasked with and they’re complaining that they can’t get it done,” she said. “The problem is, we do not have enough personnel to do what we’re trying to do.”

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