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December 29, 2023
Wisconsin sawmill facing $1.4 million OSHA fine

A Florence, Wisconsin, sawmill faces $1.4 million in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties following a 16-year-old worker’s fatal injuries, the agency announced December 19. OSHA cited Florence Hardwoods LLC for 8 willful, 6 repeat, 29 serious, and 4 other-than-serious safety and health violations. The agency categorized five of the willful violations as egregious, the most serious category of violations the agency issues. OSHA also placed the employer in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP).

Despite federal regulations that bar young workers from operating dangerous machinery, Florence Hardwoods’s management allowed several minor workers to perform maintenance on equipment without training or following required safety procedures.

On June 29, a 16-year-old worker became trapped in a stick stacker machine as he tried to unjam it. The worker remained trapped until he was found and freed and then transported to the hospital, where he passed away 2 days later, according to OSHA.

OSHA investigators found that minors were exposed to dangerous hazards, which immediately led to an investigation by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division. The day after the teen’s death, the mill’s operator terminated all of the children’s jobs, according to the DOL.

“There is no excuse for allowing underage workers to operate this type of machinery,” Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su said in a department statement. “Federal child labor and safety regulations exist to prevent employers from putting children at risk. They also exist to hold employers like Florence Hardwoods accountable for endangering these young workers.”  

OSHA investigators determined that Florence Hardwoods failed to train teenage and adult workers on safety procedures to prevent dangerous equipment from moving during service and maintenance tasks. Investigators also found fall, machine guarding, and electrical hazard violations at the Florence sawmill—similar to violations cited in 2020.

Since 2019, at least five employees of Florence Hardwoods, Sagola Hardwoods, and Minerick Logging have suffered serious injuries due to lockout failures, including a fatality at Minerick Logging when a worker suffered fatal injuries while servicing a trailer in 2019. 

In October, OSHA announced that the agency’s lockout/tagout standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §1910.147) was its sixth most frequently cited standard, cited 2,554 times in fiscal year (FY) 2023, which ended September 30. OSHA’s machine guarding standard (§1910.212) was the agency’s tenth most frequently cited standard, cited 1,644 times in FY 2023.

In September, the DOL obtained a federal consent order and judgment against Florence Hardwoods following the Wage and Hour Division’s investigation into child labor law violations. A federal court in Green Bay ordered the employer to pay $190,696 in civil penalties to resolve the company’s child labor violations.

“It is incomprehensible how the owners of this company could have such disregard for the safety of these children,” Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement. “Their reckless and illegal behavior tragically cost a boy his life, and actions such as theirs will never be tolerated.”

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