Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Federal agency fines Polson, Kalispell companies over workplace injuries

Lake County Leader | February 25, 2021 12:15 AM

A series of workplace injuries has led the U.S. Department of Labor to propose fines for Western Bee Supplies in Polson and LC Staffing Service of Kalispell.

The department recommended a combined fine of $246,000 for the two companies after Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors investigated a recent incident that resulted in a partial finger amputation.

Inspectors found a workplace with unguarded saw blades, rotating machinery, belts, pulleys and chains, according to the Department of Labor.

“Machine operators were cleaning saw blades and other machinery without locking out and tagging out equipment to prevent sudden starts, as required. A review of recent work logs by inspectors found the amputation wasn’t the only serious injury to occur on the machine involved, just the first one that had been reported to them,” the press release states.

The federal agency claims that a worker suffered a serious injury and another required hospitalization in an incident that the company failed to report.

OSHA cited Western Bee and its staffing contractor, LC Staffing Service, for a range of serious and willful violations, and assessed a collective $264,478 in proposed penalties. OSHA cited Western Bee for failing to install guards on various equipment; control hazardous energy; test workers for hearing damage due to noise overexposure; and report the amputation within 24 hours as required.

The agency cited LC Staffing for failing to train employees in lockout and tagout procedures, and fully power down a machine before maintenance and cleaning to prevent sudden starts and movement of machine parts. Staffing agencies have a duty to train and protect the temporary workers assigned to workplaces.

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, according to the Feb. 17 press release, which didn’t specify when the citations had been issued.

The agency reports that after an informal conference both companies signed an informal settlement agreement accepting all citations as issued with a minor penalty reduction.

“LC Staffing routinely provides lockout and tagout training to all of its employees, and it did so in this case with Western Bee," said Heidi Wallace, director of operations at LC Staffing. "This is in addition to other safety training provided by LC Staffing.”

Wallace said the injury that resulted in a partial finger amputation was not to one of LC Staffing's employees. She said she believes Western Bee will make necessary changes and modifications to its workplace, installing proper guards and safeguards and making it more safe in addition to improved training, and in particular, to job specific training to employees.

“LC Staffing resolved the OSHA citation by an informal settlement agreement which involved paying a fine of $11,496.84 and is moving forward despite disagreeing with OSHA's findings,” Wallace said.

“OSHA appears to be operating under a misunderstanding that LC Staffing did not provide training, but LC Staffing has produced its records demonstrating its commitment to safety training and safety in the workplace,” Wallace added.

Western Bee Supplies Inc. has manufactured and supplied beekeeping equipment for more than 53 years. The company employs approximately 49 employees.

Since 1985, LC Staffing Service in Kalispell has provided temporary employees to businesses as one of Montana’s largest independently owned employment services.

A representative from Western Bee Supplies declined to comment for this article.