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OSHA hits auto parts maker for safety lapses

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An Ohio auto parts manufacturer has been cited for egregious willful safety violations and is facing $3.4 million in proposed penalties from federal workplace safety regulators after two workers suffered severe injuries earlier this year.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Hebron, Ohio-based Sunfield Inc. for 57 violations for its failure 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, according to an agency news release issued on Wednesday.

In January, a 22-year-old temporary worker suffered multiple lacerations and a fractured right elbow while removing scrap from a blanking press after operating machine parts caught his arm, according to the agency. OSHA’s investigation found a supervisor had identified the safety issue two hours prior to the injury and failed to take the equipment out of service.

In February, a 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, according to the agency. Investigators found that the machine’s danger zone did not have adequate safeguards to prevent employees from coming in contact with operating machine parts.

OSHA cited the company for 46 egregious willful violations, meaning OSHA can apply willful violation limits for every violation found or for every employee exposed to hazards. The fines assessed are one of the largest OSHA penalties ever filed against a company in the automotive parts industry, according to the agency.

The company was also placed in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses resources on inspecting employers who, according to the agency, have demonstrated indifference to their Occupational Safety and Health Act obligations through willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations. Sunfield has an extensive history of OSHA violations, with the agency issuing 118 citations since 1997 for hazards that the company pledged to correct prior to the most recent inspections, according to OSHA.

“Sunfield made and broke countless promises to improve safety conditions and eliminate serious hazards on the factory floor,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels said in a statement. “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.”

Jeff Laughlin, Sunfield’s safety manager, said the company is currently reviewing the citations and will be appealing them.

“We take safety as priority No. 1 — no ifs, no ands, no buts,” he said.

Sunfield supplies parts for several major Japanese and domestic automakers and its parent company, Ikeda Manufacturing Company Ltd. is headquartered in Ota-City, Gunma, Japan.