Federal safety officials are proposing nearly $300,000 in fines against packaging company IPL Plastics Inc. for what they're calling a preventable workplace death at an Ohio thermoforming plant.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a May 24 statement that a production manager was fatally crushed in November while trying to clear plastic parts stuck in a thermoforming machine at the Cambridge, Ohio, factory of Encore Plastics, a division of Montreal-based IPL.
"Our investigation found Encore Industries removed jams and performed other service and maintenance tasks with the knowledge that its inadequate and failing lockout/tagout procedures exposed its workers to the risks associated with moving machine parts," said Larry Johnson, an OSHA area director in Columbus, Ohio.
"The company ignored reports of malfunctioning equipment and near misses," Johnson said. "By doing so, Encore Industries failed to prevent this terrible tragedy and the avoidable loss of a family member and coworker."
Company officials at the Cambridge plant did not respond to a request for comment.
OSHA said its investigators learned of two similar incidents that happened on the same machine, one on the same day as the Nov. 17 fatality and a second two days prior.
"In the two prior incidents, workers barely escaped injury," OSHA said.
The agency is proposing $291,000 in total fines, with the single largest, $145,000, coming for a "willful" violation of lockout and tagout procedures in the fatal incident and in a Nov. 15 near miss.
In the Nov. 17 death, OSHA's detailed report said the company did not implement energy control steps and the machine was not shut down while performing service work.
"As a result, an employee was fatally injured while clearing jammed product when the lift conveyor unexpectedly moved, and the employee was caught and crushed between the conveyor and the machine frame," OSHA said.
Similarly, OSHA said energy control procedures were not properly followed in a Nov. 15 incident on the same thermoforming line.
"As a result, the lift conveyor unexpectedly moved and nearly caught and pinned the employee between the machine frame," the agency said.
As part of the $291,000 in penalties, Encore also faces a proposed fine of $79,700 for not performing regular inspections of energy control procedures such as lockout/tagout at the plant.
The Cambridge facility was also cited in 2020 for similar violations.
OSHA's press release said it cited the factory twice that year for violating lockout and tagout procedures, and its detailed investigation report of the fatality notes the 2020 violation, which it termed "serious."
The company was fined $12,500 in the 2020 incident.
OSHA said the company could have prevented the Nov. 17 incident if proper procedures had been followed.
"If Encore Industries Inc. — operating as Encore Plastics Corp./IPL Global — had remedied failures that contributed to the incident, the company could have prevented the tragedy," OSHA said in its press release.
OSHA said that after the fatality, they opened a second investigation in response to a complaint alleging safety violations in the warehouse of the Cambridge plant.
As part of the $291,000 in fines, the agency is proposed $66,000 in penalties for warehouse violations, including not safely operating forklifts, not clearly marking routes to exits and not having fire extinguishers readily accessible.
Online OSHA records show another open investigation at the Ohio plant, stemming from an unspecified February complaint.
The Cambridge plant makes plastic buckets, lids and paint trays.
IPL acquired the plant in 2016, when it bought Encore Plastics Inc. of Sandusky, Ohio, in 2016. In 2020, Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Capital Partners LLC bought IPL, which had been traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
IPL ranked No. 20 in the most recent Plastics News survey of North American injection molders, with estimated molding sales in the region of $420 million in eight molding plants.
In 2021, the company bought another Ohio molder, Tech II Inc. IPL started in 1939 and is one of Canada's largest plastics manufacturers, with 20 manufacturing plants globally, including in Ireland, the United Kingdom and China.