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One worker at WKW Erbsloeh North America Inc.’s Pell City, AL, facility was standing above acid-filled tanks, helping with maintenance, when he slipped, fell backwards, and submerged himself into a tank filled with highly corrosive phosphoric and sulfuric acid.

Thanks to some quick action, the worker ended up saved, but not before suffering severe burns to his face and internal organs.

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As a result of the accident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigators responded to the July incident and found safety violations that placed employees in serious peril and led to the worker’s injuries. As a result, OSHA fined the company $177,500.

Smart Staffing Solutions, doing business as Temp Force Staffing and ABC Employment Holding, LLC, doing business as MS Companies LLC provided WKW with temporary workers. OSHA did not issue citations to the temporary staffing agencies after conducting inspections of the companies.

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WKW received a willful citation for exposing workers to falls from walkways without railings. OSHA requires walkways, platforms or runways above or next to dangerous equipment, including chemical tanks, to have railing and toeboards installed. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

“Allowing a worker to be injured by a hazard that was known by all is terrible. This worker was doing the right thing, but management was not,” said Ramona Morris, director of OSHA’s Birmingham Area Office. “Employers have the responsibility to protect employees from injuries and illnesses.”

Two repeat citations were for failing to ensure machinery would not start up while workers performed machine maintenance and service and for not training workers on how to prevent accidental startup. A repeated violation exists when an employer faced previous citations for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. WKW faced previous citations for similar violations in March 2010 at the Pell City facility.

Five serious citations were for failing to provide workers with equipment to prevent accidental machine startup; not ensuring workers followed procedures to prevent accidental machine startup; failing to monitor air quality inside chemical tanks that workers entered; not training workers on the hazards of confined spaces; and no periodic inspections of worker procedures to prevent accidental machine startup. 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.

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