The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed fining an Auburn-based company $816,500 for falsely reporting that it had corrected problems with hydraulic presses and other machinery that endangered workers at its Ohio factory, the U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday.
The fine against Formed Fiber Technologies Inc., which operates manufacturing plants in Sidney, Ohio, and Sumter, South Carolina, is the largest OSHA has proposed against a Maine company in the past five years, according to agency records.
Proposed fines of $243,000 against Lessard Brothers Construction of Lewiston in June 2011, and $171,000 against Bath Iron Works shipyard in April 2012 are the next largest during that period.
OSHA issued a statement Wednesday accusing the company of exposing its workforce at the Ohio plant to “amputations and other hazards.” Formed Fibers employs 340 at the Ohio plant and 750 overall.
“It’s a significant fine that doesn’t happen very often,” said Scott Allen, the U.S. Department of Labor’s regional director for public affairs in Chicago.
Formed Fiber Technologies, which produces motor vehicle interior trim for automobile manufacturers such as Toyota and General Motors, was acquired in May 2013 by Detroit Technologies, a privately held company based in Bingham, Michigan.
A spokesman for General Motors could not be reached for comment. Carly Schaffner, a spokeswoman for Toyota, said the company declined to comment.
The OSHA statement said Formed Fiber Technologies failed to take steps at the Ohio plant to prevent machinery from starting up unexpectedly and used unsafe methods to shut machines down for maintenance.
“Formed Fiber Technologies apparently decided that production was more important than ensuring its workers’ safety. They provided false abatement documentation to OSHA. They knew how hazardous these machines were without proper safeguards and also knew exactly how to fix those hazards,” Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said in the statement. “OSHA will not tolerate such blatant disregard for worker safety.”
Chris Richard, Formed Fiber Technologies’ chief operating officer, responded to OSHA’s announcement in an email to the Press Herald.
“We have just received the OSHA reports. We have not yet had the opportunity to review and assess the information provided by OSHA regarding our Sidney, Ohio, plant. Therefore it would not be appropriate for us to make any detailed comments at this point in time,” Richard wrote.
“We will of course be treating this matter very seriously, and we will be taking all necessary steps to review the current situation. The safety of our employees is our first and foremost priority,” he wrote.
Allen, at the Labor Department, said Formed Fiber Technologies has been placed on the department’s “Severe Violators Enforcement Program” – a kind of watch list for companies that he said “willfully violate” workplace safety regulations.
The Labor Department can repeatedly inspect a facility if a company is placed in the program, which is what happened when OSHA inspectors found 11 violations at the Ohio plant in October 2013, then returned in January and found some of the same violations despite assurances from the company that they had been corrected.
OSHA proposed a fine of $115,000 for the 2013 violations, but the sides reached a settlement that required Formed Fiber to pay $69,000. Allen said OSHA typically proposes a fine that can change if the sides negotiate a settlement.
Before 2013, the company’s factories had been inspected by OSHA 16 times and 80 violations were recorded, according to an OSHA news release.
Allen said Formed Fiber was fined twice in 2011, with penalties totaling more than $17,000.
Formed Fiber Technologies was formerly known as Gates Formed Fiber Technologies. It was founded in 1979 on Allied Road in Auburn, and changed its name to Formed Fiber Technologies in 1984.