The death of a Tonawanda Coke Corp. employee who was pulled into the rotating shaft of a coal elevator on Jan. 6, 2016, could have been prevented, an inspection by OSHA’s Buffalo Area Office. As he prepared to grease and lubricate the elevator, the worker's jacket was caught, pulling the man onto the rotating shaft. OSHA determined that the employer neither shut down the elevator at the River Road plant in Tonawanda nor locked out its power source, as required by OSHA's hazardous energy-control, or lockout/tagout, standard. They also found the company failed to train employees on how to use energy-control procedures.
"Training employees on lockout procedures and ensuring those procedures are used would have prevented this needless loss of a worker's life," said Michael Scime, OSHA's area director in Buffalo. "Compounding this tragedy is the disturbing fact that OSHA cited Tonawanda Coke in the past for not following the requirements of the lockout standard. Yet, the company exposed both the victim and another employee who greased and lubricated plant equipment to these same hazards. This is unacceptable. It is Tonawanda Coke's responsibility to eliminate these hazards once and for all and protect its employees."
OSHA's inspection determined that Tonawanda Coke failed to:
- Ensure the shut down of power sources for the coal elevator and a machine in the plant battery department and that energy isolation devices had lockout devices affixed.
- Guard projecting shafts and bolts on the coal elevator against employee contact.
- Provide hazardous energy control training to authorized employees and inform them of the location of energy control devices. This resulted in a repeated violation.
- Conduct and certify an inspection of energy-control procedures. This resulted in a repeated violation.
- Ensure the full lock out of an energy control device.
- Maintain working surfaces in a clean and dry condition.
- Ensure to bolt covers of electrical disconnects used in a classified location fully.
As a result of these conditions, OSHA has cited Tonawanda Coke for two repeated and six serious violations of workplace safety standards and proposed a total of $175,200 in fines for those violations. The repeated violations are based on similar hazards cited during OSHA inspections in 2010 and 2014.
The latest citations can be viewed here.
Since 1978, Tonawanda Coke Corp. has produced foundry coke - a coal byproduct - at the site.