Company News

Extrudex Supervisors Indicted After Workplace Death

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Two supervisors at the Extrudex Aluminum Inc. U.S. plant in North Jackson were indicted for obstructing an investigation into the death of an employee.

According to a Thursday release by the U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Ohio, Brian K. Carder of Stow, who was the plant’s general manager, and Paul Love of Lake Milton, who was safety coordinator and human resources director, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and obstruction of proceedings. Love is charged with an additional count of making false statements to law enforcement.

On Oct. 30, 2012, one employee, identified in the indictment as J.T., was killed and another, identified as D.B., was hospitalized with severe burns when they were pinned by two metal racks laden with 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of hot aluminum product. The racks were stacked on top of each other and tipped over.

As part of the aluminum extrusion process, workers transport extruded aluminum pieces through a “long, walk-in, tunnel-style oven,” according to the release. The oven is manually loaded and unloaded by pushing racks of the product along a roller conveyor system, also called the racks and rollers system.

On Dec. 3, 2009, Carder sent an email to an employee, copying Love and other employees, regarding maintenance and safety issues with the racks and rollers system. He wrote that it was “in need of dire attention” and that issues with the system “must be a priority or someone is going to get seriously hurt,” according to the release.

On Nov. 30, 2011, Love sent an email to Carder and employees about oven racks falling off the rollers.

Another email from Carder on June 12, 2012, to Love and other employees addressed safety issues with the racks and rollers. In it, he stated he saw racks fall off the rollers and that maintenance is needed. In addition, he said regular monitoring and maintenance was needed, saying that “[w]e are going to wait until someone gets seriously injury or possibly killed when a rack falls on them.”

Love forwarded that email to others, saying routine inspection of the system “must be a top priority issue.”

On June 26, 2012, an employee emailed Love saying a rack fell off the rollers and that racks were frequently “freezing up.” The employee said, “I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt if we can’t think of a better system to get these racks out of the oven safely,” according to the release. Love forwarded that email to Carder and others.

On Oct. 26, 2012, the employee who sent the June 26 email sent another email, saying that the oven racks fell off the rollers twice that night and “someone is going to [get] hurt if nothing else is done about it.” Another employee sent an email with the same story that day, saying “someone is seriously going to get hurt or even killed because of this.”

A day after the incident on Oct. 30, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began an investigation and requested Extrudex, Carder and Love turn over emails from specific employees to management about the racks and rollers system. According to the release, Carder and Love produced the two emails from Oct. 26, 2012, but not the one from June 26, 2012.

According to the indictment, Carder and Love “devised a plan to provide false statements to the OSHA investigator. They persuaded employees – including by suggesting their jobs might be in jeopardy – to draft statements recanting previous emails about safety issues with the racks and rollers system.”

The indictment also states that Carder and Love provided “materially false statements regarding, among other things, the safety issues with the racks and rollers system.”

“These supervisors threatened employees and lied to investigators,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “They will be held accountable.”

On Thursday afternoon, The Business Journal placed a call to the North Jackson plant at 12051 Mahoning Ave., to which an employee responded that the company had no comment at press time. Calls to the company’s headquarters in Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada have not been returned.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General and is ongoing.

“An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate allegations of criminal misconduct related to U.S. Department of Labor programs. We will continue to work [Department of Labor’s] Occupational Safety and Health Administration and our law enforcement partners to hold those accountable who jeopardize workers’ safety,” said James Vanderberg, Special Agent-in-Charge, Chicago Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carmen Henderson and Om Kakani.

In April, 2013, OSHA cited Extrudex with eight safety violations, including two “willful violations” that resulted in the employee’s death on Oct. 30, 2012. The citation proposed that the company be fined $175,000. The willful violations included “exposing workers to struck-by, pinned-under and burned-by hazards from hot metal racks and hot aluminum products, which could weigh as much as 8,000 pounds, and for failing to provide sufficient, safe clearance for workers operating in Oven One and Oven Two where aluminum extrusions are treated,” the announcement stated.

The six other “serious violations” included failing to provide personal protective equipment in the hot ovens, having first-aid responders at the facility, developing a written hazard assessment for unloading hot aluminum from the ovens, ensuring the lockout procedure for Oven One was utilized, conducting periodic inspections of energy control procedures and addressing steps in emergency control procedures to dissipate stored thermal energy to a safe level.

In addition, OSHA reported that the electrical emergency stop button for the door closest to the extrusion press was broken off on Oven One.

“Extrudex Aluminum could have prevented this tragic loss by protecting workers from hazards unique to its operation,” said Howard Eberts, OSHA’s area director in Cleveland, in a prepared statement at the time. “Workers should not be asked to take such risks, and OSHA will not tolerate such disregard for worker safety.”

Extrudex disputed OSHA’s violations. In a news release at that time, the company stated, “Extrudex disagrees with the findings of OSHA, which are only proposed at this point in time. Extrudex will dispute the claims within 15 days of the citation … and will pursue its remedies at the administrative level and judicial level if necessary.”

The spokesman had described the Extrudex workplace as “one of the safest in the industry” and “While it is unfortunate to have lost a valued employee, we believe there is nothing the company could have done to prevent this tragedy.”

Upon the company’s review of its safety procedures and training programs, the spokesman added, “We remain convinced that at the end of the OSHA review process, we will demonstrate that we continue to maintain a safe environment for our employees.”

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.