Whitesell Corp., originally cited by OSHA with 72 proposed violations of occupational health and safety laws and a proposed $3 million fine, reached a formal settlement of $115,500 with OSHA in November 2011.
Former Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis commented in the press release from OSHA announcing the original inspection results that the company "willfully tampered with the safety mechanisms of its hydraulic forging presses at its Tuscumbia plant to speed up production, resulting in the amputation of a worker’s hand."
OSHA began an inspection of the Tuscumbia plant in March 2010 after receiving a report that a worker’s hand had been amputated. Due to the seriousness of the hazards noted during that initial visit, the inspection was expanded to a comprehensive safety and health inspection of the facility. Three weeks later, the inspection was again expanded to include the Muscle Shoals plant due to the probability that similar hazards existed at that location.
“This employer knowingly exposed these workers to serious injuries,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels at the time. “The objective of OSHA’s actions today is to save the hands, and perhaps the lives, of other workers in the future.”
Regarding the Tuscumbia plant, OSHA originally proposed $986,500 in penalties for 13 alleged willful and five alleged serious safety violations, as well as one alleged willful, one alleged serious and two alleged other-than-serious health violations. The alleged willful safety violations addressed management’s alleged failure to develop and utilize lockout/tagout procedures of energy sources for employees engaged in maintenance activities on hydraulic forging presses and bypassing a safety feature intended to protect workers; the alleged serious safety citations concerned hazards with machines lacking mechanical guards and electrical hazards; and alleged health citations included management’s alleged failure to provide engineering or administrative controls for workers exposed to high noise hazards and to provide audiograms for those employees.
OSHA originally proposed $2,085,000 in penalties regarding the Muscle Shoals plant for 28 alleged willful and 16 alleged serious safety violations, and one alleged willful and five alleged serious health violations. The alleged willful safety violations addressed the plant’s alleged failure to develop and utilize lockout/tagout procedures for the plant’s mechanical forging presses and to lock out mechanical forging presses when dies are changed or maintenance is performed; the alleged serious citations were related to obstructed exit routes, various machine guarding hazards and electrical hazards; alleged health citations included a willful violation for management’s failure to provide audiograms for employees exposed to noise hazards; and alleged serious violations addressed the company's alleged failure to implement controls for employees exposed to the noise hazards, as well as electrical deficiencies and lack of hazard communication.
The company contested the findings and reached a settlement with OSHA in November 2011.
The Tuscumbia plant employed about 17 workers at the time of the inspection and manufactured parts used in the automotive, lawn care and home appliance industries. The Muscle Shoals plant employed about 103 workers at the time of the inspection and manufactured fasteners. Whitesell employs approximately 1,000 workers corporate-wide and has about 25 locations combined in Michigan, Iowa, Alabama, Canada and Asia.
More recently, Whitesell Corp. facilities in Romulus and Waterford, Mich., were cited by OSHA in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The company reached informal settlements with the agency in those two cases.
(This article was updated on August 11, 2016.)