Weyerhaeuser Pays for Faulty Audit

The failure of Trus Joist, a Weyerhaeuser subsidiary in Buckhannon, W.Va., to come clean with OSHA about falsified illness and injury logs following an internal audit appears to have cost the company $77,000 in fines, an expensive settlement agreement, and tons of bad publicity.

Despite numerous e-mails and employee complaints indicating that Plant Manager Len Komori had falsified the OSHA log, the company audit exonerated him from doing it. The same month the audit was completed, Komori was promoted to the position of Trus Joist's western regional manager.

Soon after the faulty audit and Komori's promotion, a Buckhannon employee complained to OSHA about recordkeeping failures at the facility.

OSHA's inspection report of the Buckhannon plant notes that a revised OSHA 300 log was put together after the company audit and that this was given to OSHA during the opening conference in January 2004. Buckhannon's safety manager, Dick Curry, told OSHA he did not think there were any additional injuries to be added as of January 29, 2004.

But Curry's statement was false, according to OSHA, and it conflicts with statements Curry made in a July 11, 2003 e-mail. Six months after an initial VPP audit alerted the company to the problem, and one month after the company audit of Buckhannon recordkeeping, the new log contained some, but not all of the recordable injuries.

OSHA's inspection report documents many examples of "employer knowledge" of agency recordkeeping requirements and sources say OSHA considered citing the company for willful violations. But in July, the agency reached a settlement agreement with Weyerhaeuser for two "unclassified" violations.

"I heard OSHA was looking at this as a willful or egregious penalty case, but it was settled as two unclassified violations," said Pat Tyson, an OSHA attorney who is a partner in the law firm Constangy, Brooks & Smith.

Tyson commented that he was not surprised the agency chose to play down the enforcement action against one of America's larger companies, as OSHA is usually told by the White House to stay out of the news during an election year.

Marie Cassady, an OSHA deputy regional administrator familiar with the case, defended the settlement agreement because Weyerhaeuser agreed to audit OSHA logs at 15 other Trust Joist plants, an indication that the agency believes under reporting of injuries extends beyond the Buckhannon facility.

Yet the fact that Weyerhaeuser, not Trus Joist, conducted the first audit of Buckhannon, and that this audit failed to resolve the recordkeeping problem, raises the question of whether falsifying OSHA logs may touch the entire Weyerhaeuser organization.

Soon after the July 2004 settlement agreement, Weyerhaeuser launched its second investigation into the problems at Buckhannon, a legal investigation that continues to this day.

The failure of the company's first internal audit to get to the bottom of what happened is one reason for the new legal review, according to company spokesperson Frank Mendizabal. "Our [first] investigation found six incidents of failure to record illnesses and injuries, but OSHA found 38," he explained.

According to a former Trus Joist employee, during this legal review OSHA did not willingly share the results of its investigation with Weyerhaeuser. It took a Freedom of Information Act request from Weyerhaeuser to obtain from OSHA copies of the company's own internal e-mails.

There are other signs the company may finally be taking the under recording problem seriously.

In a recent Weyerhaeuser bulletin addressed to all employees, Steve Rogel, company chairman, president, and CEO discussed the recent OSHA recordkeeping fines.

"We cannot allow our goal of less than one recordable incident rate to compromise accurate safety record keeping," he stated.

The bulletin noted that if injuries and illnesses are not tracked properly, the company:

  • May put its people at risk by not identifying potential safety problems;
  • May violate its ethical obligations and the law, possibly incurring significant fines and tarnishing the company's reputation;
  • Will not be able to measure improvement in performance.

"Inaccurately recording injuries or illnesses or pressuring someone to hide or not report an injury will not be tolerated and is cause for disciplinary action," Rogel concluded.

It remains to be seen how, or whether, Rogel's threat might apply to Komori and Curry.

(For more on this story, see "Weyerhaeuser: A Falling Star in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program?")

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