Union Foundry Company, a subsidiary of McWane, Inc. located in Anniston, Ala., proudly announced employees surpassed one-million work hours with no lost time due to injury or illness this past June — shortly before court papers unsealed in a federal district court documented that the foundry admitted to willfully violating federal safety rules, resulting in the death of a 27-year-old worker who was crushed in a conveyor belt.

There was no required safety guard on the conveyor belt, even though an employee at a McWane foundry in Texas had been crushed to death in another unguarded conveyor belt less than two months earlier.

Union Foundry also admitted that it had illegally handled dust contaminated with lead and cadmium. Causing the death of a worker by willfully violating safety rules is a misdemeanor. Illegally disposing of contaminated dust is a felony. Go figure.

At any rate, in deciding to plead guilty, McWane agreed to pay a $3.5 million criminal fine. It also agreed to submit a proposal to the United States attorney in Birmingham, Ala., to spend an additional $750,000 on a community service project in Alabama that either improves workplace safety or protects the environment. No individuals were charged. The plea agreement requires approval by a federal judge.

G. Ruffner Page, Jr., president of McWane, Inc., focused on the positive, saying in a prepared statement that along with reaching the million-hour milestone, Union Foundry's recordable injury and illness rate dropped 35 percent from the previous year. Workers' comp costs have declined 46 percent since 2001.

"The positive attitudes and behaviors that our employees have toward safety and health are the main reason we reached this goal," said Tim Douty, Union Foundry's assistant general manager, in a statement. "Their proactive participation fuels a safety-minded culture and keeps everyone involved in our hazard awareness and accident prevention efforts."

Union Foundry safety initiatives have included OSHA and National Safety Council training, the formation of plant safety and guarding committees, and the addition of increased safety and health staff members.

"We are starting to see safety mature as a culture here," said Gary Vernon, safety and health manager at Union Foundry, in a statement. The company also has initiated internal and third-party safety inspection programs and employees are encouraged to communicate safety concerns directly to joint management and hourly safety committee members as well as their supervisors.

Union Foundry employees are now working to achieve OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star status, which recognizes outstanding efforts in occupational safety and health.