Behr Iron & Metal Inc. pleads guilty to OSHA violations causing an employee's death

Company signs plea agreement for failing to provide lockout/tagout protection and confined space protection.

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Behr Iron & Metal, a Rockford, Illinois-based company pleaded guilty March 8, 2016, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Iain D. Johnston to willfully violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, resulting in the death of an employee at the company’s facility in South Beloit, Illinois.

Behr, a high-volume ferrous and nonferrous scrap processor, admitted in a plea agreement that March 10, 2014, the company failed to provide lockout/tagout protection and confined space protection as required under OSHA regulations for the company’s employees who were cleaning a shredder discharge pit, the agency reports. The company admitted that those violations caused the death of an employee who got caught in a moving, unguarded conveyor belt.

Behr faces a maximum sentence of 5 years’ probation, a maximum fine of $500,000 and restitution to the victim in an amount determined by the court. Sentencing is scheduled for July 12, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.

The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States attorney for the northern district of Illinois, and Ken Nishiyama Atha, regional administrator of OSHA in Chicago.

“Justice cannot restore life to the victim whose body was crushed because Behr Iron and Steel failed to provide protection from dangerous machinery on the job,” Atha said. “Safety training at the plant was woefully insufficient. Behr must be held responsible by the courts for ignoring safety standards and failing in its obligation to protect its workers on the job.”

According to the plea agreement, OSHA regulations require employers to adopt safety procedures to ensure that dangerous machines are properly shut off and unable to start up again prior to the completion of maintenance or servicing work. The safety procedures include placing a lock on the power source of the machine and a tag on the lock warning that the machine cannot be operated until the warning is removed and identifying the employee who has the key to the lock. OSHA also promulgated regulations that address the need to protect employees from entering a confined space without safety precautions.

March 10, 2014, a Behr employee was cleaning the shredder’s discharge pit when the employee’s arm was caught by the unguarded conveyor belt, pulling him into the machinery and killing him.

OSHA says Behr admitted there was no lock or operable emergency shut-off switch in the discharge pit for the conveyor belt and the conveyor belt did not have guards designed to protect employees.  Behr also admitted that employees in the discharge pit were not adequately trained to use the shredder or the conveyor belt and that the company had not developed and implemented confined space protection for employees entering the discharge pit, the agency adds.