Union leaders say working conditions are improving at a Shelbyville glass factory, but an employee’s injury in October has led to another visit from state safety officials and possibly more fines.
Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials have inspected Pilkington North America’s plant three times in the past six months and four times in just over two years.
The state began its latest investigation after an unnamed contract worker at the 350-employee facility became trapped in a press, causing multiple bone fractures and other injuries that put him in the hospital for several days.
Keith Coon, president of United Steelworkers Local 7703, which represents 300 hourly workers at the Shelbyville factory, said Pilkington began improvements after IOSHA issued record-setting fines in August.
But there is a long way to go.
“Do I expect everything to be done in the next six months?” Coon said. “With all these orders, it’s going to take a while.”
Pilkington spokeswoman Roberta Steedman did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Pilkington North America is a Toledo, Ohio-based subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate NSG Group. The Shelbyville factory produces for automakers such as Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and General Motors.
The multiple visits from Indiana’s workplace-safety agency stem from the October 2010 death of Pilkington employee Kelly Dean Caudill.
Caudill, a 59-year-old Connersville resident who had worked at Pilkington 19 years, was repairing a conveyor that moves broken glass that another company recycles and resells. A nearby cylinder activated and crushed Caudill, who died at a hospital.
As with all workplace deaths, IOSHA inspected the plant soon after the accident.
Officials found violations ranging from inadequate training to a lack of proper machinery guards. Pilkington paid $15,000 in fines.
IOSHA returned to the factory this March and April for follow-up inspections, and agency staff found many of the same violations. Because the violations were repeats, the state bumped up its proposed fines to $150,000.
The continued problems then spurred a third, “comprehensive” inspection. That included scrutiny of all aspects of the factory, not just specific facilities or equipment. The new inspection netted 29 safety violations and $453,000 in proposed fines.
The next-largest fine IOSHA has on record is $332,250 that BP paid in 2006 for violations at its Whiting oil refinery.
IOSHA spokeswoman Chetrice Mosley confirmed the agency was conducting another round of inspections in Shelbyville after the October injury. She declined to comment on the findings because the investigation had not concluded.
“These inspections, by law, can take six months,” she said. “They don’t usually take that long. But there’ve been times when we thought we were almost done with an investigation, then something else comes up.”
The findings likely will become public within a few weeks.
Meanwhile, Pilkington is formally challenging the safety orders IOSHA issued in July and August.
An August statement from Pilkington said the company intended to comply with the orders.
“However, there is a short window for completing informal settlements, and complicated matters often require additional time,” the glass company said.
Pilkington challenged the safety orders because the company intends to “preserve [its] rights and continue discussions and negotiations with IOSHA aimed at resolving this matter, while doing everything possible to ensure the safety of [its] people.”
The case is under review by a state review board, which will rule on the case if the company and IOSHA don’t reach a settlement, Mosley said.
IOSHA is willing to negotiate some issues, such as the size of fines or timetable for improvements. But specific safety requirements, such as the need for employees to wear harnesses if they are working off the ground, are not negotiable, Mosley said.
“A company has 15 days to not only pay fines but abate,” she said. “Realistically—some of the programs and corrections we ask have to be settled—but we understand you can’t get new equipment in 15 days. So they’ll come to us on setting a time line.”•