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Cal/OSHA fines ceramics firm after fatality

Clay on conveyor belt

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health on Tuesday announced more than $250,160 in citations and penalties against Aardvark Clay & Supplies Inc. for its willful failure to properly guard equipment after an employee was fatally entangled in a clay manufacturing machine.

Safety guards had been removed from the industrial mixer — known as a “pug mill” — and the worker had not received training on the machine before the accident, according to Cal/OSHA.

“Pug mills have rotating blades that can cause amputations and fatally injure employees,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum in a statement. “Employers must ensure all machinery and its parts are properly guarded, and employees are effectively trained to prevent tragic accidents like this.”

The Santa Ana, California, company uses industrial pug mills to manufacture and mix clay. On Sept. 20, 2018, an employee became caught in the unguarded mixing blades of the machine when he tried to identify why the clay stopped traveling through the extruder, according to the statement.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation found that all four of the shop’s pug mills had unguarded openings, exposing employees to the moving parts, when safety regulations require mixers to have a cover to prevent employees’ hands from entering the machine during operation, according to the statement.

Aardvark was also cited for failing to effectively train workers on the hazards involved with operating the machinery and did not identify or correct the hazards, according to Cal/OSHA.

Investigators found that although the manufacturer had provided safety guards for the machinery, the employer removed the guards. Fabricated guards had been added to the machines later but were eventually removed when the employer believed they interfered with the rate of production, according to the statement.

Cal/OSHA proposed penalties for five violations, classifying one as willful-serious accident-related, one willful-serious, two serious and one general. The willful-serious violations were cited for the employer’s failure to guard machine openings and points of operation. The serious violations identify hazards from the unguarded cutting portion of the clay machine and failure of the employer’s safety program to identify unsafe conditions, implement corrective procedures and effectively train employees on work-related hazards, according to the statement.

Officials with Aardvark Clay & Supplies could not immediately be reached for comment.



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