Montana's Plum Creek MDF Plant no Peach of a Workplace

The failure of the Plum Creek MDF plant in Columbia Falls, Mont., to protect employees working on a conveyor system has resulted in $169,000 in proposed penalties, following an investigation by OSHA into a fatal accident at the plant in July.

OSHA's Billings area office issued one willful, eight serious, two repeat and one failure-to-correct citation following an investigation that began on July 11. The conveyor accident at the plant took the life of an employee with Workplace Inc., a company that supplies manpower to the Plum Creek facility. Workplace Inc. was not cited.

"This accident and the unsafe conditions discovered during the inspection could have been avoided by adherence to recognized safe work practices and OSHA regulations," said David DiTommaso, OSHA area director in Billings.

Plum Creek was cited for one willful violation for equipment lock-out hazards including failure to de-energize equipment before employees worked on it, not locking equipment out of service and not having authorized employees perform machinery lock outs. A $70,000 fine is proposed for this violation.

OSHA also found two alleged repeat violations for failure to protect employees from hazardous parts on conveyors and unguarded chains and sprockets and assessed penalties of $37,500 for those violations.

Eight alleged serious violations address their failure to: provide emergency stops on conveyors and alarms for conveyors that start automatically; provide fall protection for employees working above dangerous equipment; provide identifiable locks used for lockouts along with lockout training; verify that equipment was de-energized before working on it; provide guarded projecting shaft ends, belts and pulleys; and using compressed air for cleaning purposes in excess of safe pressure. The penalty for the serious violations totaled $31,500.

A total of $30,000 in penalties also was proposed for Plum Creek's failure to correct a previous citation that had required the company to prepare written machinery lockout procedures.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. A repeat violation occurs when a previously cited hazard is corrected but allowed to re-occur. A serious violation is one where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

Plum Creek has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to request an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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