It was just around six months ago when a 32-year-old machine helper entered a large wire mesh manufacturing machine at Wire Mesh Sales LLC to retrieve a fallen metal bar, and he was struck and killed by a part that feeds the wire into the machine’s welding area.
The light curtain that would have automatically turned the machine off before he entered the danger zone ended up disabled. It didn’t have to end that way as proper operation of the machine’s guards would have saved his life.
Wire Mesh has more than 200 employees nationwide, and recorded $60 million in revenue in 2012.
After an investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Wire Mesh fines of $697,700 for eight per-instance willful violations as well as other repeat, serious and other-than-serious citations.
The company is now also in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference to their legal obligations by committing willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations.
“This was a preventable and senseless tragedy,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said of the August incident. “When employers are serious about safety, everyone benefits. Wire Mesh Sales LLC failed to properly implement OSHA safety regulations, and a worker paid the ultimate price.”
The per-instance willful citations include the employer’s failure to guard the wire mesh manufacturing machine as well as three other large machines that make wire mesh or straighten and test the wire. Additionally, the company failed to assure that four machines, including the one involved in the incident, were shut down and hazardous sources of energy were locked or tagged out prior to employees’ entering and servicing the equipment where no guards protected them from harm. The 56 employees, most of who were not native English speakers and who worked 12-hour shifts seven days per week, faced exposure to serious injury or death because of these failures. OSHA issued $560,000 in fines for the eight per-instance willful violations.
A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Another 22 serious violations are for conditions, including: a factory floor cluttered with broken pallets creating a hazard that could lead to workers tripping and falling into moving machine parts; an electrical outlet left on the ground wrapped in tape that posed a shock hazard; and a bathroom with a sink that had been clogged for months with maggots swimming in standing water. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. Fines for the serious violations total $126,700.
Wire Mesh also faces citations for failing to administer an effective hearing conservation program. The company violated this standard at its Oglesby, IL, facility in 2012. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously faced citations for the same or similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. There is $11,000 in fines for the repeat violation.
In addition, the company faces four other-than-serious safety and health violations for failing to mark exits, assure crane operation safety and develop an effective respirator program for employees required to wear respirators. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious injury.