Sunfield Inc., a motor vehicle metal parts stamping operation established in 1993, nearly broke a record, but not in a good way. The Hebron, Ohio site is the only U.S. plant of parent company, Ikeda Manufacturing Co. LTD. which is headquartered in Ota-City, Gunma, Japan. Sunfield, which has a daily workforce of 175 workers, faces $3.42M in fines after an OSHA investigation determined the company willfully exposed temporary workers to machine hazards.
OSHA issued 57 citations for safety violations to Sunfield, claiming the company failed to disconnect machinery from a power supply and prevent sudden movement before maintenance and service, and to train workers in how to operate machine presses safely and to service and maintain them.
The fines assessed are one of the largest OSHA penalties ever filed against a company in the automotive parts industry.
Federal investigators inspected Sunfield’s Hebron plant after two workers suffered severe injuries in separate incidents in January and February 2016. The facility has an extensive history of federal safety violations dating back 20 years. The company, which investigators found to have a high rate of employee turnover, supplies parts for several major Japanese and domestic automakers.
“When companies prioritize production and profit over the health and safety of their workforce, too often it is the workers that pay the price,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “OSHA’s investigation found the company’s leadership failed in its obligation to properly train workers for the jobs they were hired to do, and created a culture that routinely tolerated willful and serious safety violations.”
OSHA issued citations for 46 egregious willful, two willful, one repeated and eight serious safety violations with penalties totaling $3,426,900 to Sunfield. The agency also placed the company in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failure to address these safety hazards. Most of the violations involve lack of machine safety procedures, which expose workers to amputation, lacerations and other injuries. OSHA’s investigation found:
- On Jan. 6, a 22-year-old male temporary worker employed by the staffing agency, Employers Overload, suffered multiple lacerations and a fractured right elbow, while removing scrap from a blanking press after operating machine parts caught his arm because safety light curtains were not operating correctly. OSHA’s investigation found a supervisor had identified the safety issue two hours prior to the injury, and failed to place the equipment out of service. The injured worker had been on the job just six months.
- On Feb. 18, a full-time, 58-year-old Sunfield employee had to undergo surgical amputation of his right arm above the elbow after his arm was crushed as he removed scrap on a robotic press line. Investigators again found that the machine’s danger zone did not have adequate safe guards to prevent employees from coming in contact with operating machine parts. He had been on the job for just a year.
Prior to these inspections, Sunfield had an extensive history of OSHA violations. Since 1997, 16 of 20 inspections conducted found multiple violations. In total, the agency has issued 118 citations that have addressed numerous machine hazards similar to those cited in the current case and resulted in 90 serious, eight willful and five repeated violations to the company, which repeatedly assured OSHA that it would address the unsafe conditions.
“Sunfield made and broke countless promises to improve safety conditions and eliminate serious hazards on the factory floor. The company also ignored its own corporate safety manuals and its safety manager’s warnings that workers lacked the training to protect themselves. And still, the company risked the safety and well-being of its employees as they operated dangerous and powerful industrial machines,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor of Occupational Safety and Health.
“Sunfield has shown a total disregard for its workers, the kind rarely seen since the darkest days of the past when callous industrialists ruled and put profits before human suffering and common decency,” Michaels added. “This has to stop. We hope that today’s action brings an end to these conditions and convinces this employer that their behavior is intolerable.”
OSHA found that the company did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts. It did not prevent machines from unintentionally starting when workers were performing service and maintenance such as clearing scrap, and also failed to provide adequate safety mechanisms such as guards, locking devices and other procedures to prevent contact with those moving parts. These types of violations are among the most frequently cited by OSHA and often result in death or permanent disability.
The agency also found multiple electrical safety violations including lack of personal protective equipment, workers exposed to “live” electrical parts and use of damaged equipment.
Under OSHA’s regulations, temporary and host employers are both responsible for ensuring employees are trained about safety hazards in the facility where they are placed to work. Three agencies – Atrium Personnel, iforce of Heath and Employers Overload of Newark – have been cited by OSHA for failing to provide lockout/tagout training for affected employees and for failing to provide mechanical power press safe operation training prior to sending temporary employees to the site. Each company faces proposed penalties of $7,000.
Sunfield Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.