WASHINGTON - Plastics industry workers apparently are getting caught in machines in alarming numbers and a regional government safety office has planned a ``strategic intervention'' to combat the problem. The program urges plastics and rubber industry companies to use machine shut-off, lockout or tag-out safety devices during maintenance shutdowns and downtime.
Doing so isolates the machine's energy source and might reduce or eliminate the chance of an accident.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announc-ed July 1 it had looked at 145 eastern Missouri companies with a Standard Industrial Classification starting with the digits ``30'' and found six deaths at rubber and plastics companies from 1989-1995.
Five workers were killed when they were caught in machinery; a sixth was electrocuted. Three of those deaths occurred in 1995 alone.
During the same time period, the St. Louis OSHA office inspected companies with the 30 SIC code classification 39 times, according to the agency report.
If those companies can show OSHA that they have installed safety lockouts and tag-outs and then an accident occurs, fines and penalties can be reduced and inspections will be reduced to spot checks, according to Janice P. Barrier, executive director of OSHA's St. Louis office.
The ``strategic intervention'' is still only a pilot project using data from eastern Missouri, Barrier said, noting that ``other places might want to take a look at this emerging issue.''
Barrier would not identify any of the 145 companies in the OSHA industry focus.
She said most problems can be solved with off-the-shelf safety devices.
The purpose of the program is not to target particular industries or companies, she said.
Frank Kane, an OSHA spokes-man in Washington, said none of the other 50 OSHA field offices are reviewing the plastics industry's safety preparedness.
Barrier noted also that if the pilot program of voluntary compliance does not work, ``then we'll have to try something else.'' But ``just having inspectors and having a presence is not enough'' for OSHA.
Barrier said that for the next three years, the St. Louis OSHA office will track injury and fatality rates in the SIC 30 group. If a company lacks a safety program, OSHA will provide free consultation, Barrier said.
An executive of St. Louis-based Drumtech Inc., a plastic drum reconditioner, has found that complying with the OSHA rules is ``not that difficult if you want to.'' Drumtech is not one of the 145 companies, as its SIC code does not fall into the ``30'' category.
John Shocklee, Drumtech general manager, said enforcement problems with OSHA occur ``if you are aware of the rules and choose not to act.''