Pallet maker failed to train workers leading to 2023 death

This Facebook image of the outside of Konz Wood Products where a worker was killed.

Photo By Konz Wood Products

APPLETON, Wis. — In December 2023, 57-year-old Francis L. Wolfinger, a maintenance worker at Konz Wood Products, a Wisconsin-based pallet company, was killed in an industrial incident, as reported in Woodworking Network.

Investigators recently determined that the Appleton pallet manufacturer’s failure to train employees in machine safety procedures — and ensure the procedures were followed — contributed to the fatal injuries suffered when Wolfinger was struck by the carriage of a lumber stacking machine. OSHA said that because of Konz's "continued workplace safety failures," the company was placed on the agency’s severe violator program and proposed $177,453 in penalties.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, investigators responded to a report of a worker fatality at Konz Wood Products on Dec. 5, 2023, and learned the company had not made sure the machine was locked out to prevent movement while the employee removed a board jammed in the machine. As he freed the board, the metal carriage moved, striking him and causing severe crushing injuries.

The stacker machine’s metal carriage moves boards onto pallets for transport, pushing and lowering each row of wood onto a pallet upon completion.

The fatal incident marked the fifth opening of an inspection since 2016 at Konz’s Appleton plant. The agency cited the company in 2019 after inspectors identified four serious violations, including one related to required lockout/tagout procedures and another related to lack of fall protection.

“Federal safety procedures protect workers from the dangers of coming in contact with moving machine parts, but when employers fail to train workers or ensure procedures are followed, workers are at risk for serious or fatal injuries,” said OSHA Area Director Robert Bonack in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Konz Wood Products and Wisconsin’s entire lumber and wood products industry must work to improve employee safety by guarding machines during normal production and locking out and tagging equipment during the maintenance.”

Federal lockout/tagout procedures are required by law to disable machinery or equipment to prevent the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities.

OSHA inspectors issued Konz Wood Products two repeat violations for lacking lockout/tagout procedures and failing to provide fall protection when employees worked above dangerous machinery. In addition, the agency cited the company for 15 serious violations for lack of point-of-operation and machine guarding on table saws, band saws, shaft ends and chains and sprockets. Inspectors also noted a lack of fall protection — including missing staircase handrails — electrical hazards and oxygen tanks stored unsafely.

For its continued workplace safety failures, OSHA has placed Konz Wood Products in the agency’s severe violator program and proposed $177,453 in penalties.

Learn more about OSHA and lockout/tagout procedures.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commissio

.

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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).