For the fifth time in the past three years, OSHA inspectors found workers at Wood Fibers Inc. at risk of amputation, fire and other life-threatening hazards in October 2014. Despite the agency’s intervention, the company has failed to provide proof that hazards had been fixed or that penalties from previous inspections have been paid.

Ignoring regulations

Acting on an employee complaint, OSHA inspectors went to the company's wood pellet manufacturing facility. They found that employees operated machines without effective safeguards from moving parts amid large amounts of combustible wood dust accumulated throughout the facility. These unsafe working conditions prompted OSHA to issue four repeated and eight serious safety violations. Proposed penalties total $71,610.

"Wood Fibers clearly ignores federal OSHA regulations. The company must make immediate changes to its safety and health program," said Robert Bonack, OSHA's area director in Appleton.

Based in Niagara, Wood Fibers is a leading producer and distributor of residential and commercial heating pellets, animal bedding pellets, premium boiler fuel and organic landscape mulch.

Deja vu

OSHA issued four repeated violations related to the hazards. Wood Fibers was cited for similar violations in 2012 after three inspections at the facility.

Workers were also exposed to amputation, struck-by, fall and electrical shock hazards. Inspectors found devices were not used to prevent equipment from starting during service and maintenance, a procedure known as lockout/tagout. Additionally, workers were exposed to struck-by hazards from a front-end loader that had a broken windshield, which reduced driver visibility. Employees faced fall hazards because they lacked a safety harness and lanyard when using an aerial lift.

Inspectors also found electrical safety hazards because of damaged extension cords and missing faceplates and openings in electrical enclosures. Flexible cords were used where fixed wiring should have been installed. In total, eight serious violations were cited.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that led to the deaths of 119 workers, 718 injuries and extensive damage to numerous industrial facilities.