Whistleblower: Livelihoods take lives of Minnesota workers

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2013 - 10:36 PM

In this Dec. 7, 2011 photo, the Verso Paper mill in Sartell, Minn., is shown in this aerial image.

Photo: Kimm Anderson, Associated Press file photo

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Three Minnesota workers were electrocuted. Four fell from roofs or equipment. Other employees died from being hit by falling objects.

In each case, state investigators found shortcomings in workplace safety. In 2012, the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration closed 18 workplace fatality investigations by issuing citations to employers.

The state has had an average of 66 fatal work injuries per year between 2008 and 2011, according to MNOSHA, a division of the Department of Labor and Industry.

There were 4,693 deaths on the job nationwide in 2011, down from 14,000 in 1970, Seth D. Harris, acting U.S. secretary of labor, said last week in honor of International Workers’ Memorial Day. “But we cannot and must not say our work is done. That’s 4,693 workplace fatalities too many,” Harris said.

“We can and we must save more lives — with even stronger enforcement, even better training and outreach,” he said. He also called on employers to do their part.

Cases can take up to five years to close once an investigation is completed. Therefore, I have listed Minnesota cases that closed in 2012, regardless of when the accidents occurred. I’ve included fatalities that resulted in the 10 highest fines.

Verso Paper Corp., Sartell (Accident year: 2012) $39,200 fine

An employee died when oil in an air compressor surpassed its flash point by almost 100 degrees and the compressor burst into flames and exploded. The water supply used to cool the compressor had been shut off for maintenance.

Verso was cited for failing to make sure proper procedures were followed when shutting down equipment.

Westside Wholesale Tire, Hamel (2011) $31,100

A worker was cutting open a 55-gallon barrel when it exploded, and he was hit in the head by its lid. The worker died a month later.

Westside was cited for failing to train employees and ensure that barrels that may contain ignitable gases are properly cleaned and vented before being cut into.

Riverview LLP, Hancock (2011) $30,400

An employee working on a “manure crew” at a dairy farm was driving an ATV when it went into a ditch and hit a tree. The employee was thrown off the ATV.

Riverview was cited for failing to provide helmets and ATV training, lacking a written accident-reduction program and failing to immediately report the accident.

ACME Electric Motor Inc., doing business as ACME Tools, Bemidji (2012) $28,200

An employee standing in the basket of an aerial lift received an electric shock from an overhead power line and fell 39 feet to the ground.

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