Global manufacturing firm Whitesell Corp. has evoked harsh words from the U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis for a multitude of safety and health violations discovered by federal investigators in the company’s two northwest Alabama facilities. According to Solis, the violations created dangerous conditions for Whitesell’s employees, one of whom had his hand severed by a hydraulic forging press earlier this year.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced fines of $3,071,500 against the company for 72 violations found throughout its manufacturing plants in Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Whitesell’s Tuscumbia location employs 17 workers and manufactures parts used in the automotive, lawn care, and home appliance industries. The Muscle Shoals plant employs 103 workers and manufactures fasteners and HVAC components. Whitesell employs more than 1,000 workers in 25 locations in the U.S., Canada, and China.

“Whitesell willfully tampered with the safety mechanisms of its hydraulic forging presses at its Tuscumbia plant to speed up production, resulting in the amputation of a worker’s hand,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Companies like Whitesell that value short-term gain over their workers’ safety will be held responsible for their reckless actions,” Solis added.

OSHA began an inspection of the Tuscumbia plant in March after receiving a report that a worker’s hand had been amputated. Due to the seriousness of the hazards noted during that initial visit, OSHA expanded the complaint investigation to a comprehensive safety and health inspection of the facility. The inspection was again expanded three weeks later to include the Muscle Shoals plant due to the probability that similar hazards existed at that location.

“This employer knowingly exposed these workers to serious injuries,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “The objective of OSHA’s actions today is to save the hands, and perhaps the lives, of other workers in the future.”

OSHA proposed $986,500 in penalties for safety violations found in the Tuscumbia facility. The violations included 14 willful violations, 6 serious violations, and 2 lesser health violations. The willful safety violations addressed the plant management’s failure to develop critical safety procedures for employees working with hydraulic forging presses and for bypassing safety features intended to protect workers. The serious safety citations concerned the lack of safety guards on machines and electrical hazards.

For the Muscle Shoals plant, OSHA proposed $2,085,000 in penalties for 29 willful and 21 serious violations. As with the Tuscumbia facility, the willful safety violations addressed this plant’s failure to develop and utilize lockout/tagout procedures for the plant’s mechanical forging presses and to lock out mechanical forging presses when dies are changed or maintenance is performed.

Serious citations involved obstructed exit routes, various machine guarding hazards, and several electrical dangers. Other citations for noise hazards and the management’s lack of controls and training for employees affected by loud noise were included.

OSHA issues a willful citation when it finds a violation committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for legal requirements and employee safety and health. Serious citations are given when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

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