Ill. steel company pleads guilty in death of employee
Behr Iron & Steel Inc. of Rockford, Illinois pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Iain D. Johnston to willfully violating OSHA regulations, resulting in the death of an employee at the company’s facility in South Beloit, Ill.
The high volume ferrous and nonferrous scrap processor admitted in a plea agreement that on March 10, 2014, the company failed to provide lockout/tagout protection and confined space protection as required under OSHA regulations for the company’s employees who were cleaning a shredder discharge pit. The company admitted that those violations caused the death of an employee who got caught in a moving, unguarded conveyor belt.
The company faces a maximum sentence of 5 years’ probation, a maximum fine of $500,000, and restitution to the victim employee in an amount determined by the Court. Sentencing is scheduled for July 12, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.
The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Ken Nishiyama Atha, Regional Administrator of OSHA in Chicago.
“Justice cannot restore life to the victim whose body was crushed because Behr Iron and Steel failed to provide protection from dangerous machinery on the job,” said Mr. Atha. “Safety training at the plant was woefully insufficient. Behr must be held responsible by the courts for ignoring safety standards and failing in its obligation to protect its workers on the job.”
How it happened
Behr’s South Beloit facility recycles metals contained in such things as automobiles and refrigerators. According to the plea agreement, OSHA regulations require employers to adopt safety procedures to ensure that dangerous machines are properly shut off and unable to start up again prior to the completion of maintenance or servicing work. The safety procedures include placing a lock on the power source of the machine and a tag on the lock warning that the machine cannot be operated until the warning is removed, and identifying the employee who has the key to the lock. OSHA also promulgated regulations that address the need to protect employees from entering a confined space without safety precautions.
Metals shredded through a shredding machine in Behr’s South Beloit facility fall onto a conveyor belt located about ten feet underground in a shredder discharge pit, which was approximately six feet long and six feet wide. The shredded materials were then moved by a conveyor belt out of the discharge pit and through a sorting process. Some of the shredded metals fall onto the ground of the discharge pit near the conveyor belt. One or two Behr employees working on the shredding machine were required to clean the discharge pit on a daily basis. The employees shoveled shredded materials from the floor of the discharge pit onto the running conveyor belt.
On March 10, 2014, a Behr employee was cleaning the discharge pit when the employee’s arm was caught by the unguarded conveyor belt. The employee was pulled into the machinery and killed.
No emergency shut off switch
Behr admitted that there was no lock or operable emergency shut off switch in the discharge pit for the conveyor belt, and the conveyor belt did not have guards designed to protect employees. Behr also admitted that employees in the discharge pit were not adequately trained to use the shredder or the conveyor belt, and that the company had not developed and implemented confined space protection for employees entering the discharge pit.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott R. Paccagnini.