Fort Worth, Texas-based pipe extruder WL Plastics Manufacturing LLC says the 17-year-old hurt in an accident involving a forklift was legally working at its newly acquired plant in Titusville, Pa., through a program with the public schools.
The teen suffered a "sprained ankle from stepping down from the forklift" at about 10 p.m. April 3, 2022, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) told Plastics News.
Federal law prohibits youths under age 18 from operating hazardous equipment such as forklifts, scissor lifts and dough mixers.
The Federal Labor Standards Act sets the minimum age of 18 years for any nonagricultural occupations deemed to be "particularly hazardous" for 16- and 17-year-olds. The rules help ensure young peoples' work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities.
WL Plastics officials dispute some of the DOL findings but paid the $6,399 civil fine for violating child labor laws.
"WL disputes that the minor was ever authorized to engage in activities prohibited by law, including operation of a forklift, and at the time of the injury, the minor was not operating a forklift," said Joshua Cottle, vice president of sales and marketing.
No hospitalization was required and the minor lost no time at work, Cottle added.
"Subsequently, the minor voluntarily resigned from WL," he said.
WL Plastics has made changes to prevent another similar incident.
"While WL disagreed with the DOL's characterization of the minor's involvement with a forklift, measures have been instituted to prevent such an occurrence in the future," Cottle said.
The incident happened two months after WL acquired the assets of the Titusville operation from Charter Plastics to expand its geographical footprint and product offering.
The ownership changeover also brought an overtime issue to light. About 60 employees weren't paid overtime wages in the form of safety bonuses, which violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The DOL recovered a total of $10,361 from WL Plastics in back wages and liquidated damages for the affected workers.
Cottle said the company's management is committed to operating its plants legally, safely and responsibly, while providing employees competitive compensation and benefits.
"WL recently acquired the Titusville site and timely responded to, and fully cooperated with, the DOL's wage and hour audit request concerning the facility," Cottle said. "WL is willingly rectifying past allegations concerning back pay related to the recently acquired site and has instituted control measures to prevent future occurrences."
Founded in 2000, WL Plastics employs about 640 people to produce HDPE pipe and related products for the oil, gas, mining, industrial and municipal water markets.
With estimated annual sales of $450 million, WL Plastics is the 15th largest pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America, according to Plastics News data.
The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ineos USA LLC, which does business as Ineos Olefins & Polymers USA and is part of the Ineos Group, a manufacturer of petrochemicals, specialty chemicals, and oil products.