Weyerhaeuser: A Falling Star in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program?

When Weyerhaeuser vice president Don Berry announced Dec. 1, 2003 he was promoting plant manager Len Komori to general manager, he noted, Lens plants consistently display a strong safety culture and achieve business-leading safety performance." But was that safety performance based on lies?

According to an OSHA inspection report, one reason for Komori's excellent safety performance at the plant he managed in Buckhannon, W.Va. until his promotion is that from 2001 to 2003, he and his safety manager deliberately failed to record at least 38 injuries and illnesses on OSHA recordkeeping logs. In July, Weyerhaeuser agreed not to contest a $77,000 fine for these recordkeeping failures.

Perhaps even more damaging to Weyerhaeuser's reputation as an organization that values safety, there is evidence that the company's upper management knew of Komori's illegal activity at Buckhannon at the time he was promoted. In addition, OSHA suspects that cheating on OSHA recordkeeping logs may be occurring at 15 other Trus Joist facilities. Weyerhaeuser purchased its Trust Joist subsidiary in 2000.

Because it is in the middle of a legal review of what happened at Buckhannon, a Weyerhaeuser spokesperson declined to comment on anything related to the OSHA recordkeeping citation. "The legal review of the events that occurred at Buckhannon is ongoing and we expect it to be completed soon," said Frank Mendizabal.

In the July settlement agreement between OSHA and Weyerhaeuser, the company agreed to a recordkeeping audit for the years 2002 and 2003 at Buckhannon and 15 other Trus Joist facilities that will be conducted by Weyerhaeuser corporate safety professionals and third-party auditors.

Marie Cassady, an OSHA deputy regional administrator who worked on the settlement, explained that while the agency is not currently concerned about Weyerhaeuser's recording processes, it does believe that the Trus Joist subsidiary "has an institutional problem."

OSHA's June 15 inspection report of the Buckhannon facility, internal company e-mails obtained by Occupational Hazards, and sources familiar with the case, all paint a picture of an organization where the under-reporting of injuries and illnesses appeared to be a routine practice that was tolerated, and even rewarded, by company vice presidents.

"In the Future, We'll Go 100 Percent by the Book"

Ironically, Buckhannon's problems began when the facility applied to join OSHA's prestigious Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), an honor reserved for worksites that have exemplary safety and health programs.

OSHA's Philadelphia regional office assigned Chrysoula Komis to do the initial VPP audit in 2003. Komis's suspicions were aroused when she discovered a large number of first aid cases that were not recorded on the OSHA logs. Komis then requested copies of medical records and the workers' compensation paperwork from Weyerhaeuser.

At this point, the plant's safety manager, Dick Curry, became nervous and wrote a July 11, 2003 e-mail to plant manager Komori filled with damaging admissions that OSHA later seized upon in its inspection report.

"I had no idea the audit would be this intense," Curry wrote. He also discussed "doctoring the records," keeping them internal, and withdrawing from VPP. Elsewhere in this e-mail Curry states:

  • He has reviewed incident investigations for 2000 and "found six which would fall under recordability if [OSHA inspector] Chrys [Komis] reviews them."
  • He knows he will find more injuries in 2001, 2002, and 2003 that would be recordable but have not been recorded;
  • He has "given this a great amount of thought and wish there were an easy way out but there doesn't seem to be;"
  • He confesses he was "afraid OSHA would smell blood and dig deeper," and concludes, "I think, in the future, we will have to go 100 percent by the book."

Unfortunately, after Curry's e-mail, "going 100 percent by the book" is exactly what the company did not do.

A Plant is Fined, Its Manager Promoted

"Several memos were sent to Komori, telling him there was a problem because the OSHA recordkeeping logs had been falsified," said a former employee. "But all our e-mails were ignored."

During an exit interview in October, this same employee informed a company human resources manager and the director of human resources, Connie Liposhak, about the problems with the OSHA logs, and Komori's refusal to correct them. Trus Joist chose to take no corrective action even though, according to the former employee, Liposhak knew Komori was being considered for a promotion.

In December, after a manager reported the recording irregularities to Weyerhaeuser's business conduct office, the company began a corporate audit of Buckhannon's OSHA logs, according to OSHA's inspection report.

Yet despite the many e-mails encouraging Komori to correct the OSHA logs, including Curry's damaging July 11 e-mail, and despite the internal complaints to Weyerhaeuser's human resource and business conduct offices, "no specific report was generated" by the audit, according to OSHA's final investigation report.

Weyerhaeuser Vice President Bill Corbin was responsible for the audit. A Dec. 23, 2003 e-mail from Corbin acknowledges that some incidents were "misclassified." But the audit team "found no indication that mill management intentionally misclassified incidents." Mendizabal said the audit discovered only six unrecorded injuries and illnesses, the same number Curry had already admitted to in his July 11 e-mail.

In December 2003, another company vice president, Don Berry, announced plant manager's Komori's promotion: he was to be Trus Joist's western regional manager.

The announcement of Komori's promotion pointed to the many safety awards Komori's plants had won over the years, such as three President's Awards and one Weyerhaeuser Wood Products Team Safety Award.

According to OSHA, the 38 unrecorded incidents at Komori's Buckhannon plant from 2000-2003 included 24 injuries, nine sprains, a fractured wrist, a lacerated lip, hearing loss, rash, and a case of carpel tunnel syndrome requiring surgery from repetitive work.

As he was preparing to leave after his promotion had been announced, Komori refused to sign and certify the OSHA 300 recordkeeping data for 2003, as required by law. OSHA later fined the company an extra $7,000 because of this. OSHA stated Komori knew very well what he wasn't doing: he was "well aware of the recordkeeping requirements," as he had signed the log in 2002 and had even taken training in recordkeeping in 2001.

The new plant manager at Buckhannon would not sign the form either.

Weyerhaeuser ended up paying dearly for the failure of its internal audit to identify and correct the falsified OSHA logs. A Buckhannon employee, evidently frustrated by the organization's failure to address the problem internally, complained to OSHA in January 2004.

Six months later, Weyerhaeuser was confronted with a $77,000 fine, mandatory third-party audits of OSHA logs for 2002 and 2003 at all of its Trust Joist facilities, and a big public relations problem.

In part two of our two-article series: Does falsification of OSHA recordkeeping logs extend beyond Trus Joist into other Weyerhaeuser operations?

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