On the day of the accident, Burkes' employees were removing wood and bark chips underneath a moving conveyor belt and shoveling them back onto the conveyor. An employee reportedly went into a narrow opening to remove bark that had accumulated under the belt. His shovel caught between a roller and the underside of the moving conveyor, pulling him into the machinery and trapping him.
"Following the basic safety rules would have prevented this tragic death," said Ken Atha, OSHA's Mobile area director. "The machinery should have been turned off and the energy source isolated; the fact that Burkes knew these rules compounds the tragedy."
OSHA's report shows that maintenance employees were working in the same area the day before the accident. While they were working, the conveyor belts had been locked out. The report also notes that Burkes had a written "lockout/tagout" program.
OSHA issued one willful citation, with a proposed penalty of $63,000, to Burkes Mechanical Inc. for failing to render the conveyor inoperable before employees began work. A willful citation is issued when an employer has shown an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.
The company also received three serious citations, with $18,900 in proposed penalties, for failing to follow "lockout/tagout" procedures, provide training to employees and furnish instructions on how to stop the conveyor in the event of an emergency.
Gulf States, the owner of the plant, received one serious citation, with a $6,300 proposed penalty, for failing to provide warning signs around the conveyor alerting employees of "caught-in" hazards. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
The companies have 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Staff from OSHA's Mobile area office, located at 3737 Government Blvd., Suite 100, conducted the inspection; phone: (251) 441-6131.