Criminal Trial Averted after Machine Death

Monday, September 9, 2013 @ 03:09 PM gHale


Adams Thermal Systems Inc. will pay $1.33 million after the company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Occupational Safety and Health Administration to resolve criminal penalties and OSHA fines levied as a result of the death of a worker on Nov. 7, 2011, in the company’s Canton, SD, plant.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the Deferred Prosecution Agreement Sept. 5, 2013, and has asked for approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.

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Under the terms of the agreement, the company will pay the worker’s surviving spouse $450,000, a criminal fine of $450,000 and the full OSHA fine of $435,000 stemming from the regulatory violations that caused the fatality and additional violations discovered in subsequent inspections.

OSHA’s investigator found the worker ended up fatally crushed in a machine used to make radiator cores, after management instructed and authorized workers to bypass the manufacturer’s barrier guard in order to adjust the machine to keep it running. OSHA also conducted two concurrent safety and health investigations at the company in February 2012, which resulted in 66 violations.

“Adams Thermal failed to provide a safe workplace, and those conditions ultimately took the life of a worker. There is no excuse for an employer to compromise safety to keep production running,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “The Department of Labor has worked diligently with the Office of the United States Attorney for South Dakota to resolve this case and provide justice to the family of this worker. No one should ever lose their life for a job.”

Because the willful violations cited by OSHA caused the worker’s death, the case ended up referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota in November 2012 for criminal prosecution. Criminal Chief Dennis Holmes handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The purpose of this settlement, which was reached after discussions with the victim’s family, is to provide justice to the family and deter similar corporate conduct in the future,” said U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson. “The right of South Dakotans to a safe work environment isn’t optional, it is fundamental. I commend OSHA for their investigative efforts, and I am pleased with the settlement that has been reached.”

The agreement resolves both of the OSHA civil cases, and includes significant enhanced abatement of violations by the company. Adams Thermal Systems agreed to: Increase the size of its safety and health department; implement a companywide safety and health program; provide incentives for managers and workers to report safety issues and make safety recommendations; and to hire a qualified third-party to review guarding and lockout/tagout for all plant machinery and to audit the abatement of all identified hazards. The company will also report quarterly to OSHA for three years on safety progress and reportable illnesses and injuries, and redesign the safety systems and procedures on the radiator core machine involved in the fatality.

The agreement will resolve three willful citations issued for $210,000 on April 26, 2012, as a result of the fatality investigation. The settlement also resolves the additional citations issued on August 2012, following two concurrent comprehensive safety and health inspections, with proposed penalties of $225,000. The comprehensive safety and health cases involved 58 serious violations and eight other-than-serious violations addressing unlabeled piping systems; obstructions in aisles and passageways; unguarded machinery; crane and hoist hazards; improper exits; electrical hazards and exposures to chemicals, dust, and noise.

OSHA placed Adams Thermal Systems, which manufactures engine cooling systems for off-highway and on-highway vehicles, in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program in August 2012 as a result of these inspections. The program mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. The program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.



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