On June 22, 2021 the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) fined a plastics recycler based in Toccoa, Georgia, $164,308 following the fatal fall of a worker in December 2020.
OSHA claims that the company Scrap Masters Inc. did not equip appropriate stairs and guardrails to their platforms. While the company had installed some fall protection, OSHA said that it failed to meet federal safety guidelines. These safety violations led to the death of a 56-year-old worker who fell 6 feet from an elevated platform, resulting in a fatal head injury.
The company, which recycles plastic automobile gas tanks, also faces OSHA citations for 8 serious workplace safety violations and 5 repeat violations, which contributed to their penalty. Outside of the issues that caused the fatal fall last year, other citations included safety violations such as not mounting and marking fire extinguishers.
Scrap Masters also failed to develop and implement procedures for employees that perform service and maintenance on their machines, which could expose these workers to amputation hazards.
Over the past 5 years, OSHA has inspected Scrap Masters Inc. 5 times, and 4 of those inspections have resulted in workplace safety citations.
A pattern of workplace safety violations in the recycling industry
In 2016, another recycling company in Dalton, GA, faced a $317,814 fine because of failed workplace safety standards. This penalty came after OSHA inspected Columbia Recycling Corp. and found that there were 5 repeated safety violations, including 3 serious health infractions.
According to OSHA, some of Columbia Recycling’s repeat violations included the failure to implement an effective program for preventing work-related hearing loss, not protecting petroleum gas storage tanks with crash guards and neglecting proper storage of liquefied petroleum.
Other citations Columbia faced related to the improper storage of compressed gas cylinders, not allowing sufficient space around electrical equipment and the failure to ensure that employees successfully completed training to operate a powered industrial truck.
Another one of the company’s violations was related to a failure in reporting a work-related amputation injury within 24 hours.
Common workplace OSHA violations
Both of these cases are representative of many of the most frequently cited citations by OSHA. Every year, OSHA publishes their list of the most common health and safety violations so that employers can take steps to fix these issues and prevent workplace injuries.
The top 10 most common workplace violations in 2020 fell into the following categories:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication standards
- Respiratory protection
- Control of hazardous energy
- Powered industrial trucks
- Fall protection—training requirements
- Eye and face protection
- Machinery and machine guarding
How to report unsafe working conditions to OSHA
Each employer is required to properly train their workers, ensure their safety by notifying them when there is a hazard and provide appropriate safety gear. In addition, they must ensure that their workplace meets OSHA guidelines to prevent injuries and accidents, such as potential falls.
No matter where you work, it is your right to demand a safe working environment. Workers might ignore dangerous practices or unsafe work conditions for fear of being fired or harassed, but this will only prolong the danger and could lead to serious injury or death.
If you notice something that could pose a potential threat to you or your coworkers, you should first report this hazard to your supervisor, boss or employer.
If your employer does not take your report seriously, your next step would be reporting to your union representative, if you belong to a union. Union reps usually have more authority to force employers to comply with safety standards, and they can protect you from potentially being fired.
If you don’t have a union to represent you and you fear retaliation from your employer, you can report any unsafe working conditions anonymously and directly to OSHA. You can contact your nearest OSHA office by phone or mail to ensure that the issue falls under the agency’s regulations. You can also file a complaint online at the OSHA website.
When you speak with OSHA, make sure to include as much information as you can regarding the incident. Explain things like how many employees were exposed to the danger and what kinds of machinery, materials or chemicals are involved. You should also mention how long the condition existed and whether your employer has attempted any corrections to resolve the issue.
After reviewing the complaint, an OSHA representative will likely inspect the facility and the report will include what corrections need to be made, in addition to any fines and penalties.
In some situations, a workplace may be too dangerous to continue employment, and an experienced attorney can help handle cases concerning labor laws and workers’ compensation. In this event, your case would be reviewed for evidence of discrimination or harassment, and you could speak with a lawyer who can advise you on whether or not to file a lawsuit.