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Worker Death Could Have Been Prevented

'Training employees ... would have prevented this needless loss of a worker's life," said OSHA's area director.

Since 1978, Tonawanda Coke Corp. has produced foundry coke, a coal byproduct
Since 1978, Tonawanda Coke Corp. has produced foundry coke, a coal byproduct
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On January 6, 2016, an employee at NY-Based Tonawanda Coke Corp. was preparing to grease and lubricate a coal elevator when his jacket was caught and he was pulled on to the rotating shaft. The 60-year-old employer succumbed to his injuries before police and paramedics arrived at the scene.

According to a recent inspection, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stated that the loss of life could have been prevented.

OSHA determined that the employer didn't shut down the elevator or lockout its power source, which is required by OSHA's lockout/tagout standard. The company also failed to train employees on how to use energy-control procedures.

"Training employees on lockout procedures and ensuring those procedures are used would have prevented this needless loss of a worker's life," said Michael Scime, OSHA's area director in Buffalo, in a press release. "Compounding this tragedy is the disturbing fact that OSHA cited Tonawanda Coke in the past for not following the requirements of the lockout standard. Yet, the company exposed both the victim and another employee who greased and lubricated plant equipment to these same hazards. This is unacceptable. It is Tonawanda Coke's responsibility to eliminate these hazards once and for all and protect its employees."

Tonawanda Coke, which produces the coal byproduct foundry coke, has been cited a proposed total of $175,200 for two repeated and six serious violations of workplace safety standards. The repeated violations are based on similar hazards cited during OSHA inspections in 2010 and 2014.

According to OSHA's inspection, Tonawanda Coke failed to:

  • Ensure the shut down of power sources for the coal elevator and a machine in the plant battery department and that energy isolation devices had lockout devices affixed.
  • Guard projecting shafts and bolts on the coal elevator against employee contact.
  • Provide hazardous energy control training to authorized employees and inform them of the location of energy control devices. This resulted in a repeated violation.
  • Conduct and certify an inspection of energy-control procedures. This resulted in a repeated violation.
  • Ensure the full lock out of an energy control device.
  • Maintain working surfaces in a clean and dry condition.
  • Ensure to bolt covers of electrical disconnects used in a classified location fully. 

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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