The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama announced criminal charges today in a case involving willful violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards that led to a worker’s death. The charges involve an Aug. 16, 2017, incident at the Helena, Alabama, plant owned by ABC Polymer Industries LLC, in which a worker was pulled into a cluster of unguarded moving rollers and killed.
ABC Polymer manufactures flat plastic sheets using plastic extrusion assembly lines that pull the plastic sheeting through multiple clusters of large spinning rollers. As alleged in the charging document, the machine at issue was manufactured with a metal barrier that would protect the operator from the pinch points of the moving rollers, as well as an “interlock” mechanism that would stop the rollers’ spinning if the guard were lifted out of the way. OSHA standards require moving machinery, such as the one at issue here, to be guarded while the machine is energized.
However, ABC Polymer had a standard practice of operating that machine with the guard in the “up” or unprotected position when the rollers were moving. The automatic mechanism that would have stopped the line and rollers’ spinning when the guard was in the up position was not used, allowing operators to reach between or near the roller drums to cut tangles in the plastic sheet without stopping the line.
Despite knowing of numerous prior worker injuries from using that machine without the safety guard engaged, ABC Polymer assigned the victim to cut tangles out of plastic sheeting from among the machine’s unguarded spinning rollers with a hand tool. The worker became entangled in the spinning rollers and was killed.
Federal law makes it a class B misdemeanor to willfully fail to follow an OSHA safety standard where the failure causes the death of an employee. The class B misdemeanor is the only federal criminal charge covering such workplace safety violations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor investigated this case. Trial Attorneys William Shapiro and Ethan Eddy of Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Posey and Ryan Rummage are prosecuting the case.
The defendant is presumed innocent until convicted. If convicted, the defendant faces a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the financial gain to the defendant or twice the financial loss to another, whichever is greater, and is also liable for restitution to the victim. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the relevant statutory factors.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.