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OSHA slams auto parts maker with $2.5M fine after worker crushed to death

Posted On: Dec. 15, 2016 9:54 AM CST

OSHA slams auto parts maker with $2.5M fine after worker crushed to death

An Alabama auto parts supplier is facing $2.5 million in proposed fines and has been deemed a severe violator of workplace safety rules after a bride-to-be working at its facility was crushed to death.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Joon L.L.C., doing business as Ajin USA of Cusseta, Alabama, for 23 willful, serious and other-than-serious violations, including 19 egregious violations, following the death of 20-year-old Regina Allen Elsea, according to a press release issued by the agency on Wednesday. 

In June, Ms. Elsea was crushed to death in a robotic machine after she and three of her co-workers entered a robotic station to clear a sensor fault and the robot restarted abruptly, crushing her inside the machine two weeks before her wedding day, according to OSHA. 

The company was cited for failing to utilize energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance and servicing and exposing workers to caught-in, struck-by and crushing hazards by allowing them to enter a robotic cell without shutting down and securing hazardous stored energy according to safety procedures. It was also cited for failing to provide safety locks to isolate hazardous energy and exposing employees to crushing and amputation hazards due to improper machine guarding, among other violations. 

Ajin was 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.

“This was a preventable incident — Ajin USA only had to ensure that proper safety measures were followed to de-energize the robot before the workers entered the station,” Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta, said in a statement. 

OSHA also cited two Opelika, Alabama-based staffing agencies — Alliance HR Inc., doing business as Alliance Total Solutions L.L.C., and Joynus Staffing Corp. — for two serious safety violations each for failing to utilize specific safety procedures to control potentially hazardous stored energy during maintenance and servicing and not providing or ensuring employees had locks to properly shutdown machinery. Those companies, which provide about 250 temporary employees to Ajin, are facing about $25,000 in proposed penalties apiece, according to the citations. Ms. Elsea was hired to work at Ajin through Alliance.

A spokeswoman for Alliance declined to comment, while Ajin and Joynus spokespersons could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Ajin supplied parts to automakers Hyundai and Kia. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, traveled to Korea last year and met with top managers of the companies to warn them of hazardous conditions at their suppliers and explain that their production policies were endangering workers at the suppliers’ factories.

“Kia and Hyundai’s on-demand production targets are so high that workers at their suppliers are often required to work six and sometimes seven days a week to meet the targets,” he said in a statement. “It appears that — to reduce its own costs in meeting these targets — this supplier cut corners on safety, at the expense of workers’ lives and limbs.”

"Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia is committed to workplace safety and the well-being of our team members, and suppliers are vital to our success in West Point," a Kia spokeswoman said in an email. "The items identified by OSHA are inconsistent with our company's core values and we will work closely with Ajin in the pursuit of continuous improvement."

A Hyundai spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.