Mill owner accused of wilful violation of safety standards following worker’s death

Article by Kerry Hebden

THE US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has accused a mill owner of wilful violation of safety standards after a 36-year-old sheet machine worker was electrocuted at a paper mill in Maplesville, Alabama. 

According to OSHA, the incident on the 28 September 2022, occurred when a metal conveyor connecting six machines stopped working at the mill owned by South Coast Paper. An unnamed 36-year-old worker took actions to replace the belt's motor, but did so without de-energising the machines in use. De-energisation means removing the energy from machinery or equipment and may include shutting off a machine and unplugging it, or disconnecting a switch before a lock is applied to prevent the machine from being started up accidentally. 

A hot wire then made contact with the ground and energised the machine. The worker died from electrocution when he grabbed a metal rail connected to the conveyor system, OSHA said. 

"There is no reason to perform maintenance on machinery without first taking all steps to de-energise that piece of equipment. Doing otherwise places workers at serious risk for injury and death," said OSHA area office director Jose Gonzalez in Mobile, Alabama. "South Coast Paper's failure to follow established safety procedures cost this worker their life and has left family, friends and co-workers to mourn." 

South Coast Paper has been cited by OSHA with one wilful violation for allowing employees to perform maintenance on machinery without ensuring the development and documentation of hazardous energy control procedures and that they were followed.  

The company was also cited with a repeat violation for allowing workers to perform maintenance on machines without first being trained to make sure they possessed the knowledge and skills for safely applying, using and removing hazardous energy controls. OSHA said the company was issued with a similar citation in June 2022 at its facility in Burlington, New Jersey. 

In addition, the company was cited for lack of machine guarding, and not providing clear access in front of a 480-volt breaker panel nor training on electrical safe work practices, OSHA said. 

The company, which is facing nearly US$230,000 in fines, said it disputes the penalties from OSHA but will cooperate with the agency. 

“South Coast Paper has fully cooperated with OSHA and the authorities during inspections of the worksite and gathering of information. Employee safety is of the utmost importance to us here at South Coast Paper,” the company said in a statement to regional news outlet AL. “While we disagree with information that has been circulated and the citations issued by OSHA, we will continue to cooperate with OSHA in good faith.” 

The company had 15 days from OSHA’s citations to either accept the fines, request a conference with the agency or contest the penalty before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. OSHA has confirmed that South Coast Paper has contested the citations. 


Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.