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September 20, 2013
Manufacturer to pay $1 million in employee fatality case

A South Dakota company that makes engine-cooling systems for vehicles will pay more than $1.3 million to resolve OSHA fines and criminal penalties in connection with an employee fatality in late 2011.

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Where did this company go wrong, and why did OSHA impose such a steep fine? Keep reading to find out.

The worker was fatally crushed in a machine used to make radiator cores. OSHA investigators learned that management had instructed and authorized employees to bypass the manufacturer’s barrier guard in order to adjust the machine to keep it running. OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels responded, “There is no excuse for an employer to compromise safety to keep production running.”

Because the death was a result of willful violations, the case was referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota for criminal prosecution. As a result of the agreement, the company will pay the full OSHA fine of $435,000 as well as a criminal fine of $450,000 and an equal amount to the worker’s surviving spouse. OSHA has placed the employer in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which mandates targeted follow-up inspections.

The settlement also requires that the manufacturer:

  • Increase the size of its safety and health department;
  • Implement a companywide safety and health program;
  • Provide incentives for managers and workers to report safety issues and make safety recommendations;
  • Hire a qualified third party to review guarding and lockout/tagout;
  • Report quarterly to OSHA for 3 years on safety progress and reportable incidents; and
  • Redesign safety systems and procedures on the radiator core machine involved in the fatality.

The lesson for employers is clear: Circumventing safety systems in order to increase production can hurt your employees. And if OSHA discovers what you’ve done, it can kill your bottom line.

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