Sawmill Owner Refuses Safety Fixes After Young Worker Perishes in Accident

He had been on the job less than a month.

On January 11, 2023, a 21-year-old new employee was being trained at the Missouri Mats sawmill in Brashear, Missouri, when he was caught and pulled into the vertical edger blades of a Hurdle saw. The worker had been on the job less than a month and was fatally injured in the industrial accident. Missouri Mats cuts lumber products that are used in various industries.

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According to OSHA, company owner Don Gibson failed to report the fatality, delaying the OSHA investigation an entire week. During the visit, OSHA investigators told Gibson to protect employees from amputation hazards and directed him to report when the safety hazard had been corrected. 

The inspectors returned two months later and found that Gibson not only failed to implement new safety measures but had workers operating the saw in the same way that led to the young worker's demise. Inspectors also discovered that Missori Mats knew sawmill operators let the vertical edger continue to spin while inspecting the machine. Still, the company didn't re-train workers to use the machine safely or change the SOP. The machine is large enough to cut full logs.

As a result, OSHA placed an imminent danger notice on the saw, which is only used in extreme safety cases. The posting alerts workers to the threat, and OSHA can also have a federal court order the employer to eliminate the problem. After the notice, the sawmill's owner finally made a change and fixed the safety failure. 

OSHA has placed Missouri Mats in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program and cited the company for two willful, 53 serious and two other-than-serious safety and health violations. The company faces $346,954 in proposed penalties for lack of machine guards, inadequate lockout/tagout, fall hazards, insufficient training, exposure to electrical hazards and other safety violations. 

During the investigation, OSHA also witnessed underage workers operating heavy-powered industrial trucks.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time a company helmed by Gibson failed to comply with federal workplace safety laws. In 2012, OSHA investigated a death at a logging site operated by Gibson, as well as a sawmill he owned in Arbela, Missouri.

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