OSHA slaps Phenix Lumber with  $1.9M finePHENIX CITY, AL

-- Phenix Lumber, a 60-employee sawmill in Phenix City, AL, and its principal, John M. Dudley, have been slapped with penalties totaling more than $1.9 million by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
 
OSHA, exhibiting pique at the wood products firm's practices, said Phenix Lumber demonstrated "willful disregard for employee safety," and charged it with numerous violations, including exposing employees to amputation and fall hazards.

Jerry Schwarzauer, land manager for the company, told WSFA 12 News that the company, already struggling due to the economy, would have a difficult time to raise $1.9 million to pay the fines, putting the operation at a risk of shutting down. Phenix Lumber and Dudley have until the first week of July to comply, request a conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. 

Prior to these citations, OSHA said Phenix Lumber had been cited 77 times since 2007 for serious safety and health violations. Last year OSHA fined MDLG, doing business as Phenix Lumber, $439,400 stemming from the investigation of the death of a worker in a forklift injury and critical injury of a second worker

Phenix Lumber issued a press release concluding that it is "reviewing the OSHA citations and its legal rights and options."

"We are fully committed to our employees' safety," Phenix Lumber states in its release. "The Company has continued to significantly improve its safety and health program especially over the past year. Specifically, it has continued to revise its safety policies and procedures and to address OSHA concerns, has trained and retrained all of its employees and managers including the OSHA 10-hour safety training course, has provided additional personal protective equipment to all its employees and is providing weekly safety talks to all employees. We will without fail continue to cooperate fully with the agency."

"Phenix Lumber continues to put workers at risk by choosing not to implement safety measures that would prevent serious injuries to their employees," says Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. The fact that the Secretary of Labor issued the statement about Phenix Lumber shows ther seriousness with which the charges were issued.

Company manager  Jerry Schwarzauer told local news outlets that  Phenix is trying to improve its safety practices, and that all employees had been given a 10-hour OSHA safety training course this year. Schwarzauer also said that last year's forklift incident and other past injuries were accidental.

OSHA says it began the most recent inspection on Dec. 15, 2010, after employees complained that working in the planer mill exposed them to amputation hazards when they did  maintenance, and while clearing jams on pieces of machinery that did not have their energy sources locked out to prevent their unexpected start up. Two months later, OSHA says it received a second complaint that an employee had suffered a partial finger amputation while clearing a piece of machinery that had not been locked out. And during an inspection following the second complaint, an OSHA compliance officer learned of another employee who had just suffered a severe hand injury while working on unguarded machinery, the agency says.

Citations for three additional willful violations allege that a worker at Phenix Lumber was exposed to fall hazards while working from the top of a machine, locks were not issued to employees as required by the lockout standard, and the company failed to follow established lockout/tagout procedures. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. 

Citations against Phenix Lumber can be viewed here. 

On Tuesday, June 14, 2011, Phenix Lumber Company received Citations and Notifications of Penalties based on two inspections conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Company fully cooperated with OSHA during these inspections and in fact was in the midst of working with OSHA to improve its safety management program and processes. Phenix Lumber takes seriously its safety obligations and OSHA's concerns. We are fully committed to our employees' safety.

The Company has continued to significantly improve its safety and health program especially over the past year. Specifically, it has continued to revise its safety policies and procedures and to address OSHA concerns, has trained and retrained all of its employees and managers including the OSHA 10-hour safety training course, has provided additional personal protective equipment to all its employees and is providing weekly safety talks to all employees. We will without fail continue to cooperate fully with the agency.

However, the Company is obviously disappointed that OSHA apparently failed to take into account the dramatic improvement in the Company's safety program when it decided on the citation classifications and penalty amounts. The Company respects OSHA and hopes that OSHA would want to work with an employer who has demonstrated a commitment to move ahead in a struggling economy and industry.

Phenix Lumber is currently reviewing the OSHA citations and its legal rights and options. The Company will continue to improve its safety and health programs and policies to ensure that all of its employees return safely to their homes each and every night.

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