OSHA Fines Auto Parts Manufacturer $3.42 Million for Safety Violations

Noria news wires
Tags: workplace safety

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued 57 citations for safety violations to Sunfield Inc., an Ohio auto parts manufacturer. The agency has also proposed the company pay more than $3.42 million in total fines for its failure to disconnect machinery from a power supply and prevent sudden movement before maintenance and service, and to train workers in how to operate machine presses safely and to service and maintain them.

The fines assessed are one of the largest OSHA penalties ever filed against a company in the automotive parts industry.

Federal investigators inspected Sunfield's Hebron plant after two workers suffered severe injuries in separate incidents in January and February 2016. The facility has an extensive history of federal safety violations dating back 20 years. The company, which investigators found to have a high rate of employee turnover, supplies parts for several major Japanese and domestic automakers.

OSHA has issued citations to Sunfield for 46 egregious willful, two willful, one repeated and eight serious safety violations. The agency also placed the company in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failure to address these safety hazards. Most of the violations involve lack of machine safety procedures, which expose workers to amputation, lacerations and other injuries.

"When companies prioritize production and profit over the health and safety of their workforce, too often it is the workers that pay the price," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "OSHA's investigation found the company's leadership failed in its obligation to properly train workers for the jobs they were hired to do and created a culture that routinely tolerated willful and serious safety violations."

On Jan. 6, 2016, a 22-year-old temporary worker suffered multiple lacerations and a fractured right elbow while removing scrap from a blanking press after machine parts caught his arm because safety light curtains were not operating correctly. OSHA's investigation found a supervisor had identified the safety issue two hours prior to the injury and failed to place the equipment out of service. The injured worker had been on the job just six months.

On Feb. 18, 2016, a full-time 58-year-old Sunfield employee had to undergo surgical amputation of his right arm above the elbow after his arm was crushed as he removed scrap on a robotic press line. Investigators found that the machine's danger zone did not have adequate safeguards to prevent employees from coming in contact with operating machine parts. He had been on the job for just a year.

Prior to these inspections, Sunfield had an extensive history of OSHA violations. Since 1997, 16 of 20 inspections conducted found multiple violations. In total, the agency has issued 118 citations that have addressed numerous machine hazards similar to those recently cited, including 90 serious, eight willful and five repeated violations to the company, which has repeatedly assured OSHA that it would address the unsafe conditions.

"Sunfield made and broke countless promises to improve safety conditions and eliminate serious hazards on the factory floor," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor of occupational safety and health. "The company also ignored its own corporate safety manuals and its safety manager's warnings that workers lacked the training to protect themselves. And still, the company risked the safety and well-being of its employees as they operated dangerous and powerful industrial machines. Sunfield has shown a total disregard for its workers, the kind rarely seen since the darkest days of the past when callous industrialists ruled and put profits before human suffering and common decency. This has to stop."

OSHA found that the company did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers from being injured by moving machine parts. It did not prevent machines from unintentionally starting when workers were performing service and maintenance such as clearing scrap, and also failed to provide adequate safety mechanisms such as guards, locking devices and other procedures to prevent contact with those moving parts. These types of violations are among the most frequently cited by OSHA and often result in death or permanent disability.

The agency also found multiple electrical safety violations, including lack of personal protective equipment, workers exposed to "live" electrical parts and use of damaged equipment.

Under OSHA's regulations, temporary and host employers are both responsible for ensuring employees are trained about safety hazards in the facility where they are placed to work. Three agencies, Atrium Personnel and iforce of Heath, as well as Employers Overload of Newark have been cited by OSHA for failing to provide lockout/tagout training for affected employees and for failing to provide mechanical power press safe operation training prior to sending temporary employees to the site. Each company faces proposed penalties of $7,000.

With a daily workforce of nearly 175 people, Sunfield Inc. is a motor vehicle metal parts stamping operation established in 1993. The Hebron site is the only U.S. plant. The parent company, Ikeda Manufacturing Co., is headquartered in Gunma, Japan.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.  

For more information, visit www.osha.gov.