Jan. 27, 2015
OSHA investigation finds management ignores hazards after worker falls
into acid-filled tank at Pell City, Alabama, auto parts manufacturer
Employer supplies auto parts to Mercedes, Volkswagen and General Motors
PELL CITY, Ala. — Imagine being on the job and suddenly you are horrifically injured. Adding to your pain, you learn later company management knew of the hazards that injured you and did nothing to stop this from happening. This situation became all-too-real for a maintenance worker at WKW Erbsloeh North America Inc.'s Alabama facility. The worker was standing above the tanks, while helping with tank maintenance, when he slipped, fell backwards, and submerged himself into a tank filled with highly corrosive phosphoric and sulfuric acid. The man was saved, but not before suffering severe burns to his face and internal organs.
U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators responded in July 2014 and discovered safety violations that placed employees in serious peril and led to the worker's injuries. Proposed penalties total $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.
The WKW facility in Pell City, Alabama, where a worker fell into a tank containing acid and suffered severe burns.
WKW was issued 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 repeated citations were issued for failing to ensure that 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 previously has been cited 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 was cited previously for similar violations in March 2010 at the Pell City facility.
The five serious citations were issued 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.
In April 2013, OSHA announced an initiative to improve workplace safety and health for temporary workers, who are at increased risk of work-related injury and illness. The initiative includes outreach, training and enforcement to ensure that temporary workers are protected on the job. OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have also issued a "Recommended Practices"* publication that focuses on ensuring temporary workers receive the same training and protection as permanent employees.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the preliminary Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries shows fatal work injuries in Alabama accounted for 66 of the 4,405 fatal work injuries* reported nationally in 2013. Additional details are available at http://www.bls.gov.
WKW Erbsloeh North America Inc. does business under the name WKW. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. To view the current citations, http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/WKWErbsloehNorthAmericaInc_987543_0123_15.pdf*
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Birmingham Area Office at 205-731-1534.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
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Release Number: 15-54-ATL (27)
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The department's Reasonable Accommodation Resource Center converts departmental information and documents into alternative formats, which include Braille and large print. For alternative format requests, please contact the department at (202) 693-7828 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (federal relay).
*Accessibility Assistance: Contact OSHA's Office of Communications at 202-693-1999 for assistance accessing PDF materials.