OSHA levies $2.5 million fine against Alabama auto parts supplier

Agency critical of Kia, Hyundai for ignoring potential safety issues.

By Bob Vavra, CFE Media December 16, 2016

OSHA has levied $2.5 million in fines against an Alabama-based metal parts stamping company and two staffing agencies for their roles in the death of a 20-year-old woman just two weeks before her wedding.

Beyond leveling the fines against Ajin USA in Cusseta, Ala., and staffing agencies Alliance Total Solutions and Joynus Staffing Corp., OSHA officials were sharply critical of auto manufacturers Kia and Hyundai, who had been warned in 2015 that its production deadlines and goals were endangering worker safety.

On June 18, 2016, Ajin USA employee Regina Elsea was crushed when a robot suddenly restarted while she and her three co-workers were attending to a sensor fault on the assembly line.

"This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions," said OSHA administrator Dr. David Michaels. "In addition, it is unfortunate that Hyundai and Kia, who set strict specifications on the parts they purchase from their suppliers, appear to be less concerned with the safety of the workers who manufacture those parts."

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration led the agency to cite Ajin USA for 23 willful, serious and other-than-serious violations, including "19 egregious instance-by-instance willful violations," according to an OSHA press release. Alliance Total Solutions LLC and Joynus Staffing Corp. were cited for two serious safety violations each. The total fines for the three companies come to $2,565,621.

OSHA officials revealed in the press release that in 2015, Michaels met with Hyundai and Kia’s top managers in Korea, warning them of the potential dangers at its supplier facilities.

"Kia and Hyundai’s on-demand production targets are so high that workers at their suppliers are often required to work six and sometimes seven days a week to meet the targets," said Michaels in the press release. "It appears that, to reduce its own costs in meeting these targets, this supplier cut corners on safety, at the expense of workers’ lives and limbs."

Violations cited by OSHA include:

  • Failure to utilize energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance and servicing.
  • Exposing workers to caught-in, struck-by and crushing hazards by allowing them to enter a robotic cell without shutting down and securing hazardous stored energy according to safety procedures.
  • Failing to provide safety locks to isolate hazardous energy.
  • Exposing employees to crushing and amputation hazards due to improper machine guarding.

"This was a preventable incident. Ajin USA only had to ensure that proper safety measures were followed to de-energize the robot before the workers entered the station," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s Regional Administrator in Atlanta. "Incidents like this one are not isolated and that is why OSHA has developed and implemented its Regional Emphasis Program on Safety Hazards in the Auto Parts Industry." The agency has also placed Ajin USA in its Severe Violators Enforcement Program. This designation allows OSHA to inspect any of the employer’s facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.