NIAGARA, Wis. – For the fifth time in the past three years, U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found workers at Wood Fibers Inc. at risk of amputation, fire and other life-threatening hazards in October 2014. Despite OSHA's effort, the company has failed to provide proof that hazards had been fixed or pay penalties from previous inspections.
Acting on an employee complaint, OSHA inspectors went to the company's wood pellet manufacturing facility. They found that employees operated machines without effective safeguards from moving parts amid large amounts of combustible wood dust accumulated throughout the facility. These unsafe working conditions prompted OSHA to issue four repeated and eight serious safety violations. Proposed penalties total $71,610.
"Wood Fibers clearly ignores federal OSHA regulations. The company must make immediate changes to its safety and health program," said Robert Bonack, OSHA's area director in Appleton. "A business that exposes workers daily to dangerous hazards creates an environment that forces employees to decide between their lives and their livelihood. This is unacceptable."
Based in Niagara, Wood Fibers is a leading producer and distributor of residential and commercial heating pellets, animal bedding pellets, premium boiler fuel and organic landscape mulch.
OSHA issued four repeated violations related to the hazards. Wood Fibers was cited for similar violations in 2012 after three inspections at the facility. The agency issues repeated violations if an employer was previously cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.
Workers were also exposed to amputation, struck-by, fall and electrical shock hazards. Inspectors found devices were not used to prevent equipment from starting during service and maintenance, a procedure known as lockout/tagout. Additionally, workers were exposed to struck-by hazards from a front-end loader that had a broken windshield, which reduced driver visibility. Employees faced fall hazards because they lacked a safety harness and lanyard when using an aerial lift.
Inspectors also found electrical safety hazards because of damaged extension cords and missing faceplates and openings in electrical enclosures. Flexible cords were used where fixed wiring should have been installed. In total, eight serious violations were cited.
A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, 718 injuries and extensive damage to numerous industrial facilities.
Wood Fibers 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 Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Appleton office at 920-734-4521.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
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