3M on the hook for more than $300K in penalties after employee’s death

Dive Brief:

  • Manufacturer 3M could have prevented the death of an employee at a Wisconsin plant in May had it followed federal workplace safety regulations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday. The department announced the assessment of $312,518 in proposed penalties for willful safety violations by 3M.
  • The employee suffered fatal injuries after becoming caught in the rotating rollers of a machine at 3M’s Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, facility. OSHA said investigators determined that 3M violated federal hazardous energy setup regulations and did not implement certain energy control application steps. The company also allowed employees to circumvent machine guarding safeguards, OSHA said.
  • In an email to HR Dive, 3M said it is in the process of evaluating OSHA’s citation. The company added that it “worked closely” with federal regulators in their inspection of the Wisconsin site, and that it is implementing improvements and investments to prevent similar future incidents. “The safety and health of all our employees is our top priority, and we are deeply saddened by this tragic incident,” 3M said.

Dive Insight:

OSHA said the May incident occurred after 3M had completed a companywide equipment assessment at facilities in the U.S. and Canada. 3M issued that review after a worker’s death in 2022 at a company facility in Minnesota, according to the agency.

“The tragedy of another employee’s death in Wisconsin is compounded by the fact that the 3M Company completed a corporate-wide review and determined powered rollers were hazards in need of safety improvements,” Bill Donovan, administrator for OSHA’s Chicago-based Region 5, said in the agency’s press release. “The company must address these hazards immediately to protect employees from serious injuries or worse.”

OSHA inspectors determined that the worker at the Wisconsin facility had been helping set up a plastic extrusion line at the time of the incident. OSHA guidelines caution employers about the potential for unexpected startup or release of stored energy during the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment, which may result in serious injury or death.

The news comes just as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published data Wednesday showing that nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses increased 7.5% between 2021 and 2022, including a 4.5% increase in injuries. BLS said a forthcoming December publication would provide additional data on fatal injuries during the 2022 calendar year.

OSHA has made headlines for levying high-dollar penalties on employers this year, perhaps most notably in the retail industry. The agency’s settlement agreement with Dollar Tree stipulated that the company would pay $1.35 million and correct future violations. The agency is also beefing up electronic reporting requirements for many employers beginning next year and has proposed changes to rules stipulating who may be included in jobsite safety inspections.

Worker deaths have remained stagnant in industries like construction, a trend that observers believe can be attributed in part to low staffing levels at OSHA and a lack of effective enforcement, Construction Dive reported. The Biden administration’s budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year would increase OSHA funding by more than $100 million, or 17%, compared to existing levels.