Ajin USA and two temporary staffing agencies are facing $2.5 million in fines after an investigation by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that serious safety violations at the Ajin auto parts factory in Chambers County, Alabama led to the death of Regina Allen Elsea, a 20-year old temporary worker.
Elsea, a bride to be, was working on a production line on June 18 at Ajin’s metal stamping factory that makes auto frame parts.
When the assembly line stopped because of a problem with one of its robotic machines, Elsea entered the robot cell to fix the problem, but while she was working, the robot started without warning. Elsea was caught inside and crushed and impaled to death.
Elsea was one of 250 temporary production workers at the Ajin plant, which employs 700 production workers. Elsea had been hired by Alliance Total Solutions.
Alliance, another temporary staffing agency, and Ajin, a global auto parts manufacturer based in Korea, are facing fines totaling $2,565,621 for safety violations uncovered during the investigation of Elsea’s death.
“This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health.
Ajin’s Alabama factory makes auto frame parts for Kia and Hyundai, two Korean auto companies with plants in Alabama and Georgia.
Michaels said that Hyundai and Kia also played a role in Elsea’s death.
“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,” said Michaels.
“Kia’s 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,” continued Michaels. “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.”
Elsea was working on a Saturday when she was killed.
Ajin had been fined in 2014 for other serious safety violations, and in 2015, Michaels traveled to Korea to warn Hyundai and Kia executives about safety problems at their suppliers’ factories.
Elsea’s death, according to OSHA’s report, was caused by a willful disregard for safety precautions.
OSHA reported that when Elsea was fixing the robotic machine, its power source had not been disabled, one of the basic tenets of factory safety.
OSHA cited other instances in which Ajin workers were required to fix problems with robotic machines without their power source being disabled.
The OSHA investigation also found that Alliance Total Solutions, the temporary staffing agency that hired Elsea, to be a fault for not providing their employees with information they needed to prevent injuries like the one that killed Elsea.
Safety for temporary workers is often an afterthought that doesn’t come to the fore until a tragedy occurs, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has warned that temporary workers are more at risk of on-the-job injuries than permanent workers.
“A growing body of research demonstrates that temporary workers have higher rates of workplace injury [OSHA, 2013; Fabiano, 2008],” reports NIOSH. “According to ProPublica research, temporary workers have double the risk of suffering severe injuries on the job, including crushing incidents, lacerations, punctures and fractures [Luo,T].”
Three years ago, ProPublica published an expose on the dangers of temp work in blue collar jobs.
The expose was based on the review of five years of workers compensation data in five states. Data from 3.5 million worker compensation claims were reviewed.
ProPublica researchers found that “caught in” and “struck by” claims were significantly higher among temporary workers than their permanent counterparts.
In its report, ProPublica detailed some of the on-the-job safety violations that either killed or maimed temporary workers like Elsea.
The tragedy of Elsea’s death is even more pronounced because it was easily preventable, said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional director in Atlanta.
“Ajin USA only had to ensure that proper safety measures were followed to de-energize the robot before the workers entered the station,” said Petermeyer. “Incidents like this one are not isolated and that is why OSHA has developed and implemented its (safety manual for the auto parts industry).”
Unfortunately for Elsea, Ajin and Alliance appear to have not read the manual.