Personal Injury

Repeat performance: Alabama lumber company refuses to comply with OSHA safety rules

Last September we blogged about the steep fines a Phenix City, Alabama lumber company faced for violating federal safety standards that could have prevented the death of one worker and the critical injury of another. On Tuesday, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that the same company, Phenix Lumber Co., continued to disregard willfully violate critical safety measures intended to protect workers, resulting in fines of nearly $2 million and evoking strong words from the agency’s top ranks.

“Phenix Lumber continues to put workers at risk by choosing not to implement safety measures that would prevent serious injuries to their employees,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe and healthy. One worker injured on the job is one too many.”

Assistant Labor Secretary Dr. David Michaels said the problems at Phenix Lumber reflect “a systemic problem with the way [it] approaches safety and demonstrates an egregious disregard for workers’ safety and health.”

Prior to its recent citations, Phenix Lumber had been cited 77 times by OSHA since 2007 for serious health and safety violations.

While OSHA was inspecting the company in December, one worker was killed when his head was crushed between a motor being hoisted with a forklift and other equipment. Another worker was seriously injured after falling approximately 10 feet and breaking his neck while doing daily maintenance on the debarker in the saw mill. Another worker had his finger partially amputated when clearing a machine that had not been properly locked out and started unexpectedly. Other workers have sustained a range of injuries at the company and have submitted complaints to OSHA.

Most recently, OSHA cited Phenix Lumber for 24 willful violations, including failure to properly shut down and lock out 13 pieces of machinery before employees were required to clear jams and clean the machines. These failures exposed employees to amputation hazards, as well as to the possibility of being caught between or struck by pieces of the machinery and falling lumber. The employer also failed to train 11 employees who performed this work on the hazards and how to shut down and lock out the machinery so that they could perform their tasks safely. OSHA proposed the maximum $70,000 penalty for each violation, totaling $1,680,000.

Citations for three additional willful violations allege that a worker was exposed to fall hazards while working from the top of a machine; locks were not issued to employees as required by the lockout standard; and the company failed to follow established lockout/tagout procedures. These citations carry additional penalties of $70,000 each, for a total of $210,000.

One citation for a repeat violation with a $35,000 fine was issued for failing to place guards on seven machines. OSHA said that this was the third time in three years that Phenix Lumber has been cited for failing to guard specific equipment. OSHA issued additional fines of $7,000 for two additional violations it deemed serious for exposing workers to significant amputation injuries and risk of death. Total penalties for the recent citations amounted to $1,939,000.