PELL CITY, Ala. — “Imagine being on the job and suddenly you are horrifically injured,” a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states. “Adding to your pain, you learn later company management knew of the hazards that injured you and did nothing to stop [them] from happening.”
OSHA, the U.S. Labor Department agency charged with regulating worker safety and health, is alluding to what happened to a maintenance worker at WKW Erbsloeh North America’s plant in Pell City, Alabama. WKW manufactures aluminum parts for the auto industry.
According to OSHA, the maintenance worker was helping to maintain some large tanks containing phosphoric and sulfuric acid at the WKW plant when he slipped, fell backwards, and fell into one of the tanks, completely submerging. The man was pulled from the tank, but not before suffering severe burns to his skin and internal organs.
OSHA investigated the WKW facility in July of last year, discovering numerous safety violations “that places employees in serious peril and led to the workers injuries,” the agency said. Violations included failure to provide the required safeguards, such as railings and toeboards, around the acid tanks, which would have prevented the worker from falling.
Other safety violations included failure to take proper measures to make sure machinery wouldn’t start up while workers were performing maintenance or repairs; failure to train workers on how to prevent accidental start-ups of machinery, and failure to monitor air quality inside the chemical tanks that workers entered, among others.
Proposed penalties for the violations amounted to $177,500.
“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, Ala., office. “Employers have the responsibility to protect employees from injuries and illnesses.”