A machine operator who suffered fatal injuries as he serviced a high-speed conveyor belt in a Ladysmith paper mill in October 2015 might still be alive if his employer had ensured that equipment was powered down and locked out before the 46-year-old man entered the hazardous area.

That was the conclusion of an OSHA investigation into the Oct. 27, 2015 incident at Clearwater Paper-Ladysmith mill. The agency found that employees at the mill routinely work beneath high-speed conveyor and sheet-fork sections of the wet-lap machine during production mode, which exposes them to the risk of an operating machine pulling them in or a machine part striking them, causing severe or even fatal injuries.

Exposed to hazards "on a daily basis"

"Workers at the Clearwater Paper mill were exposed to dangerous machine hazards on a daily basis because their employer failed to properly prevent contact with operating machinery," said Mark Hysell, OSHA's area director in Eau Claire. "This man's death is tragic and was preventable."

The company which operates the mill, Cellu Tissue-City Forest LLC, has been cited for one willful, one repeat and two serious safety violations, with proposed penalties of $119,000.

This wasn’t the first time OSHA personnel visited that facility; in 2012, Cellu was cited for the same hazards.

Facilities nationwide

The mill employs about 81 workers and produces more than 40,000 tons of paper each year for use as paper towels, napkins, bath and facial tissue products. Based in Spokane, Washington, Clearwater is the country's largest provider of private label tissue to retail grocery chains and a manufacturer of bleached paperboard. The company has an administrative office in Alpharetta, Georgia, and operates manufacturing facilities in Clarkson, Washington; Columbia City, Oregon Lewiston, Idaho; Las Vegas, Nevada; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Cypress Bend, Arkansas; Shelby, North Carolina; Elwood, Illinois; and Neenah, Wisconsin.