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Criminal charges follow fatality caused by safety hazard

In many cases of workplace fatalities nationwide, including here in Missouri, federal investigators determine that the workers' deaths were preventable. This was the case in a fatal 2014 on-the-job accident in another state. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration official said the worker's death resulted from employer's failure to address a safety hazard because the company prioritized efficiency over addressing known safety hazards.

The company involved in this case is a recycler of metals obtained from refrigerators, automobiles and more. A 6-foot square pit at the facility contains a conveyor belt. The pit is about 10 feet below ground level, and the conveyor carries shredded steel that is dropped onto it by a shredder. When pieces of shredded metal miss the conveyor and land on the ground below, workers have to get into the pit and put them back onto the conveyor belt.

Unfortunately, this company failed to install lockout/tagout devices to ensure the safety of workers in the pit who are exposed to the conveyor. Sadly, on that day, a 39-year-old worker's arm got caught in the moving parts of the conveyor, and he was crushed to death. An autopsy revealed that traumatic asphyxia caused his death. OSHA also determined that the company failed to practice safe confined space safety protocols.

Due to the egregiousness of the company's violations, it was criminally charged with willfully violating OSHA safety regulations. The company's failure to address a safety hazard caused a worker's death. The company pleaded guilty, and sentencing is scheduled for July. Regardless of criminal charges, injured workers and surviving family members of those who lose their lives in unsafe workplace environments are entitled to benefits offered by the Missouri workers' compensation insurance program. In this particular tragedy, the court may also award the deceased victim's surviving family monetary damages as part of the sentence to be issued as a result of the formal conviction.

Source: rrstar.com, "Behr Iron and Steel pleads guilty to OSHA violation causing death of employee", Chris Green, March 8, 2016

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