Mississippi saw mill operator fined $184,000 for Alabama worker who was crushed to death
Published 2:43 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2023
For the third time since 2020, the operator of sawmills in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Virginia failed to follow federal workplace safety standards across its organization, resulting in a worker fatality at its Alabama facility and a U.S. Department of Labor investigation.
An investigation by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that a 20-year-old sawmill worker, part of a six-member crew trying to clear a jammed roller at Rex Lumber LLC in Troy in December 2022, was crushed when stored energy caused the infeed unit to close on him.
OSHA issued a willful citation for allowing workers to perform maintenance on equipment without controlling hazardous energy sources. The company also failed to review its energy control procedures regularly to ensure compliance and did not train employees on how to isolate stored energy in hydraulic accumulators.
The incident follows tragedies in 2021 and 2020 related to improper machine operations at two Rex Lumber sawmills in Florida. At the Graceville location in March 2021, an employee trying to fix a machine’s faulty hydraulic valve suffered crushing injuries when they were caught in the machine’s wheels and pulleys. In December 2020, a worker suffered an amputation injury — and died in a hospital days later — after their hand came in contact with the nip point of a conveyor’s roller at the Bristol, Florida, location.
“Rex Lumber’s failure to comply with well-known safety requirements led to the death of a worker and put others at serious risk of harm,” explained OSHA Area Office Director Jose Gonzalez in Mobile, Alabama. “Safety standards exist to protect workers from the hazards of moving machinery and when followed, they can save lives.”
After its investigation in Troy, OSHA assessed the company with $184,385 in proposed penalties. Since 2013, the agency has cited the sawmill operator and its subsidiaries for 19 serious and other-than-serious violations.
Operating since 1926, Rex Lumber LLC has sawmills in Troy, Alabama; South Windsor, Connecticut; Bristol and Graceville, Florida; Acton, Massachusetts; Brookhaven, Mississippi; and Doswell, Virginia. The company employs about 360 workers who harvest lumber from yellow pine.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.