Alabama sawmill hit with proposed $2.5 million in penalties in fatal accident

James Streetman, a 67-year-old maintenance worker, was killed in an accident at the Alabama lumber mill. His death was the second such death at the mill in the last three years and the third in the last 14 years.

PHENIX CITY, Ala. — A federal investigation into an August 2023 horrific fatal incident at a Phenix City, Alabama, sawmill revealed, for the second time in three years, that the employer could have prevented a tragedy by following required safety rules.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, responding to reports by first responders, found that a 67-year-old sawmill supervisor, James Streetman, at MDLG Inc., operating as Phenix Lumber Co., had climbed on top of an auger to access a difficult-to-reach area to unclog a woodchipper. 

Because of multiple failures by the employer to protect him, the machine started while the employee was on top of the auger. The 20-year employee was caught in the machinery and fatally injured.

“Phenix Lumber's willful disregard for the well-being of their employees leaves another family to grieve the loss of their loved one. This must stop,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta. “This worksite has become all too familiar to OSHA. Phenix and its owners have a legal responsibility to follow federal safety laws that are meant to prevent the exact hazards that cost this employee's life.”

In December 2023, the Phenix city council voted to revoke the lumber company's business license revoked due to “fire code violations."

The lumber company has been the site of several accidents, but the report did not link the accidents to the fire code violations

While the DOL pointed to two fatalities in three years, the facility has had many other incidents. In 2010, 52-year-old Charles Mercer died after a piece of machinery fell on his head. In December 2010, OSHA began its investigation after multiple hand injuries and one finger amputation were discovered.

In a 2011 OSHA statement, the agency said that Phenix Lumber Company has been cited 77 times by OSHA for serious health and safety violations. OSHA fined the company $1.9 million in 2011.

2023 accident

In response to the August 2023 fatal incident, OSHA cited Phenix Lumber Co., as well as its owners John Menza Dudley Jr. and Leslie Elizabeth Dudley, with 22 willful violations, one repeat violation and five serious violations, totaling $2,471,683 in proposed penalties.

Specifically, the agency found the employer failed to:

  • Ensure employees used energy control procedures to prevent the unexpected start-up of machines while performing maintenance and servicing activities such as clearing jams.
  • Ensure the use of lockout/tagout devices on machinery when performing maintenance.
  • Provide training to employees on the purpose and function of the energy control program, as well as ensure they have the knowledge and skills required for the safe application of energy control measures.
  • Maintain guarding on machines that posed amputation hazards to employees.
  • Require fall protection to be used in work areas above four feet.
  • Require employees operating a forklift to wear a seatbelt.
    Maintain fire extinguishers in a fully charged and operable condition.
  • Ensure an electrical disconnect was located in direct line of sight from the equipment being locked out.
  • Prior to these citations, Phenix Lumber Co. had been inspected four times in the past five years, including a fatality inspection in 2020 that resulted in the agency citing the company with four willful and 10 serious violations.

OSHA added the employer to the agency's Severe Violators Enforcement Program in 2020, a program for employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations that could lead to fatalities or catastrophic injuries. Employers remain on the list until they can demonstrate certain criteria and safety standards within a three-year timeframe.

Phenix Lumber Co. has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the  Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. 


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About the author
Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).