Regulators at the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) have fined an Alabama company $2.5 million in connection with a fatal workplace accident at an auto manufacturing plant. OSHA’s Region 4 regulators (who also police safety violations in North Carolina and South Carolina) noted that the 20-year-old temporary worker had been planning for her wedding at the time of her death.
According to the investigators’ findings, the workplace accident involved a robotic machine. The manufacturer was responsible for stamping metal parts for the vehicles of two auto makers. On the day in question, the assembly line suddenly stopped. The decedent and three of her co-workers entered the robotic station to clear the faulty sensor. However, the robot started again abruptly. The three other workers were able to make it out fast enough, but the decedent was not. Her death occurred just two weeks before she was to be married.
An investigation by OSHA led the agency to issue 23 willful, serious, and other-than-serious violations against the company, including 19 willful violations. OSHA defines a “willful” violation as one in which the employer displayed a purposeful disregard by either knowingly failing to comply with a legal requirement or else acting with outright indifference to the safety of workers.
Regulators cited not only the manufacturer but also the two staffing agencies. Officials called the incident a “senseless tragedy” that likely could have been avoided had the employers involved followed proper safety precautions. OSHA’s order also criticized the larger auto manufacturers that send out very strict guidelines for the parts they purchase from suppliers but are apparently “less concerned with the safety of workers” who actually make those parts.
The assistant labor secretary for OSHA traveled to Korea in 2015 – a year before this incident – and met with the top managers at the auto companies, warning them that there were hazardous conditions at their suppliers’ sites. Specifically, the production policies set forth by the manufacturers were endangering the workers at supply factories. The production level was so high that workers at supply companies routinely had to work six or seven days every single week to meet the required quotas. In trying to meet these unreasonable demands, supplier companies were regularly cutting corners at the risk of workers’ safety – and clearly with tragic consequences.
The supplier was cited for not utilizing energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance and servicing. Workers were also exposed to hazards such as crushing, struck-by, and caught-in because they were allowed to walk into this robotic cell without actually shutting it down and and following appropriate safety procedures. There was also improper machine guarding that exposed workers to amputation and crush hazards.
Although workers’ compensation exclusivity laws do not allow the decedent’s family to sue her direct employer (i.e., the temp agency), there is no rule holding she can’t sue third parties. That’s exactly what her mother has done. According to AL.com, the plaintiff, as the representative of her daughter’s estate, alleges wrongful death against the auto parts manufacturer for negligence. She is also suing other companies involved in the design, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of the machines that caused the young woman’s death.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
More Blog Entries:
Myles v. LMS, Inc. – Workers’ Compensation and Incarceration, Jan. 20, 2017, Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog