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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2005

Of 8 recent area OSHA cases, penalties were reduced in 5

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A company fined $163,000 by regulators nearly a year ago for safety violations at its Bryan factory still has not paid a penny, thanks to negotiations that have been ongoing since January.

Two other local firms fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations in the past two years similarly have forestalled paying fines during an appeal, and five other cited companies have either settled or have agreed to settle for lesser violations and sharply reduced fines.

Such outcomes often escape notice after the public splash of the initial OSHA findings that stemmed from workplace deaths or safety problems that could result in serious harm or death to employees.

A Blade study last year found that most of OSHA s inspections follow accidents or worker complaints. The agency seldom conducts unannounced inspections even at factories that have a high incidence of accidents or that recently had a death.

The federal safety agency s Toledo office has issued hefty fines and violation citations in eight high-profile northwest Ohio cases in the last two years.

Jule Jones, the Toledo office director, said this week that it is not unusual for a case to be open for many months after a fine is levied. Both sides attempt to negotiate a settlement without resorting to formal hearings, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Gregory Narsh, an attorney who has represented companies in their dealings with the agency, said, There are times when if the parties have showed a concerted good-faith effort to settle, the [administrative law] judge will give them a lot of latitude, and cases like that can extend out months and months and months.

Plastech Exterior Systems Inc., of Dearborn, Mich., which produces plastic injection molds for the automotive industry, was cited in December by OSHA for 17 violations after several visits to the Williams County plant. The fine was $163,000.

Four violations were classified willful, the most serious, and involved 15 instances of employees being at risk of falling while working on machines, improper machine shutdown procedures during maintenance, and insufficient safety training.

In January, the company contested the findings to an administrative law judge. A Plastech spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Progressive Stamping Inc. was cited for several serious violations and fined $29,500 from an investigation after an October, 2003, accident that killed a pregnant worker at its Putnam County facility.

Monica Boecker, 26 weeks pregnant at the time, died shortly after getting caught in a machine at the plant. The penalties were reduced to $18,750, but the case is open because the company has not implemented required training.

Allen County Pallet Co. was cited last year for 22 safety and health violations, including two willful offenses, and was fined $179,900 for failing to properly shut down equipment before performing maintenance and failing to provide adequate machine guarding.

The number of violations at the Lima factory has not changed, but an informal settlement proposal approved by both sides has reduced the financial penalties to $72,000. The case is still open because smaller companies like Allen County Pallet are often on a payment plan, Ms. Jones said.

Vaughn Industries LLC, of Fostoria, was fined $192,000 in late 2003 after an investigation into the 2002 death by electric shock of a 33-year-old employee at an electric substation near Fostoria. Cited were nine violations, including seven willful ones, for failure to adequately ground the line.

The company appealed, and after lengthy negotiations in which willful violations were deleted or were changed to unclassified, a generally weaker category, the firm agreed to pay $151,200.

There is some stigma associated with a willful violation, so if a company does not want that on its OSHA history, it can ask to have it changed, Ms. Jones said. It s not something we take lightly.

Sawyer Resteel Inc., of Springfield Township, was fined $14,400 in the October, 2003, death of a worker who fell from the roof during the construction of a store on Glendale Avenue in Toledo. The company contested the citation, and the result was four violations, down from eight initially, and fines of $7,800.

Fru-Con Construction Corp., of St. Louis, was cited for five safety violations during a routine inspection in March, 2003, at its I-280 Toledo bridge construction project. The violations, unrelated to a crane collapse that resulted in four deaths a month earlier, were for failing to take adequate measures to protect employees working on scaffolding from falling or to protect those on the ground from being struck by falling objects.

Fines were $35,250 but were lowered to $13,000, and the violations were cut from six to three after negotiations. The firm paid that in addition to $280,000 it had agreed to pay in the four deaths.

Meanwhile, Fru-Con was cited last year for a willful violation in connection with an incident in which a winch cable snapped on one of its cranes on the I-280 project, causing a support leg to fall onto a catwalk below. A willful violation was cited for failure to replace defective parts in the crane. The fine was $70,000, but the findings and fine have been challenged and settlement discussions are ongoing.

In yet another big OSHA fine locally, Pilkington North America Inc. was cited in June for 19 safety violations at its suburban Toledo windshield glass factory, including a willful one for allegedly allowing and instructing workers to bypass machine safeguards during tooling adjustments.

The firm was fined $105,300, but an appeal by the company is pending action.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at mmclaughlin@theblade.comor 419-724-6199.



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