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By Bebe Raupe
June 30 — An Ohio auto parts plant is facing proposed Occupational Health and Safety Administration penalties totaling $3.4 million for exposing its workers to metal press hazards.
The punishment, a near record in the auto parts industry, stems from 57 safety violations observed during two inspections of Sunfield Inc. earlier this year, OSHA said in a June 29 announcement.
Each inspection followed incidents where a worker was severely injured, the agency said, noting the Hebron, Ohio, plant was issued 46 “egregious willful” citations, plus two willful, one repeat and eight serious citations for safety violations. Most involve lack of machine safety procedures, which expose workers to amputation, lacerations and other injuries, OSHA said.
Sunfield did not take steps necessary to protect its workers from injury by moving machine parts, OSHA said, and did not prevent machines from unintentionally starting when workers were performing service and maintenance. The company also failed to provide adequate safety mechanisms such as guards, locking devices and other procedures to prevent contact with those moving parts.
These types of violations are among the most frequently cited, the agency said, and often result in death or permanent disability.
In January, inspectors came to the plant after a temporary worker suffered multiple lacerations and a fractured elbow while removing scrap from a blanking press because safety light curtains were not operating correctly. A month later OSHA investigators returned after a short-time employee had to have part of his arm surgically amputated after it was crushed as he removed scrap on a robotic press line. Investigators found that the machine’s danger zone did not have adequate safeguards to prevent employees from coming in contact with operating machine parts.
Along with the citations, Sunfield was placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program for its failure to address these safety hazards.
OSHA said the facility has an extensive history of federal safety violations dating back 20 years. Prior to this, Sunfield had amassed 118 citations including 90 serious, eight willful and five repeated violations for machine hazards and had repeatedly assured OSHA that it would address the unsafe conditions, the agency said.
A subsidiary of Japan-based Ikeda Manufacturing Co. LTD, the metal parts stamping operation employs about 175 workers. The Hebron site supplies parts for several major Japanese and domestic automakers. It is Ikeda’s only U.S. plant.
Labor secretary Thomas E. Perez said in the announcement that Sunfield’s leadership failed to properly train workers and created a workplace culture that routinely tolerated willful and serious safety violations.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels said the company has shown a total disregard for its workers.
He compared Sunfield to the kind of operations “rarely seen since the darkest days of the past when callous industrialists ruled and put profits before human suffering and common decency.”
“This has to stop. We hope that today’s action brings an end to these conditions and convinces this employer that their behavior is intolerable,” Michaels said.
Sunfield’s safety manager Jeff Laughlin told Bloomberg BNA June 30 that the company is currently reviewing the citations and plans to appeal them.
Laughlin said Sunfield sees workplace safety “as priority No. 1.”
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