A drainage pipe manufacturer based in Willmar, Minn., will pay $75,000 for having an excessive number of serious safety violations at an Illinois plant, government officials announced Wednesday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it fined Prinsco Inc. after an investigation revealed 14 serious hazards at its Chatsworth, Ill., factory. The plant is one of nine factories in seven Midwestern states that make corrugated plastic drainage pipes.

The 40-worker facility was in violation for not having protective guards on radial and table saws, belts and corrugating machines. It was also cited for failing to identify emergency exits, provide guardrails and safe wooden ladders, and close unused openings in circuit breaker boxes.

In a statement, Tom Bielema, OSHA area director in Peoria, Ill., said, "Employers such as Prinsco that record a higher-than-average rate of days lost due to injuries demonstrate a need to re-evaluate their safety procedures."

The company has 15 days to fix problems at the plant or contest OSHA's findings, OSHA said.

OSHA spokesman Scott Allen told the Star Tribune that Prinsco's 14 violations is excessive. Allen added that safety violation fines can run from $650 to more than $1 million depending on whether the company has repeat or willful violations. Prinsco has been cited for other safety issues in Iowa and Minnesota.

Still, the fine caught officials at Prinsco by surprise.

Jeremy Duininck, Prinsco's operations vice president, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he was concerned that OSHA would make the company's violations public, especially when the company has a meeting next week to discuss a recent letter from OSHA.

Duininck said the violations in question were found in May and that 75 percent of them were fixed before inspectors even left the plant. He added that the remaining 25 percent have since been resolved and that OSHA remained mum about needing any further actions until about Oct. 24, when a formal letter notified the company about serious violations.

"I am surprised by it because we dealt with these citations with OSHA in a very straightforward manner. Now we have a conference meeting set up with them next week," Duininck said.

Allen at OSHA said the agency is following standard procedure and that all cited companies have 15 days after a written notice to request a meeting with OSHA or to contest the citations and penalties.

Bielema noted that the violations were considered serious because they had the "substantial probability" of causing death or serious physical harm and were issues that the employer should have known about.

In addition to Illinois, Prinsco has factories in Prinsburg and Fairfax, Minn.; Fargo, N.D.; Appleton, Wis.; Iowa; South Dakota; Missouri, and California.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725