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3M Company Pays the Ultimate Price for Overlooking Critical Safety Hazards

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, WISCONSIN — In a devastating turn of events, a worker at a 3M Company manufacturing plant in southwestern Wisconsin lost their life in May 2023. The fact that the hazard that caused this incident had been flagged by a companywide safety review, and therefore could have been prevented, has raised serious questions about the company’s commitment to federal workplace safety regulations.

The Incident

An employee got entangled in a machine’s rotating rollers as they were setting up a plastic extrusion line. But this wasn’t the company’s first casualty; a 63-year-old worker also faced the same fate in February 2022 at its facility in Alexandria. After the incident, an assessment of the equipment was conducted in May 2022, revealing that the power rollers were a hazard.

The Investigation

OSHA launched an investigation promptly after the incident, exposing two willful violations. Initial findings revealed potential lapses in 3M Company’s safety procedures, including failure to use standard procedures for hazardous energy control, inadequate machine guarding, and lack of implementation of energy control steps during machine setup. As a result of the negligence, the company now faces proposed penalties amounting to $312,518.

OSHA’s View

OSHA’s Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago expressed deep concern, stating, “The tragedy of another employee’s death in Wisconsin is compounded by the fact that the 3M Company completed a corporate-wide review and determined powered rollers were hazards in need of safety improvements.”

3M, a Fortune 200 company that produces over 60,000 products under multiple brand names, now has 15 business days to respond to OSHA’s citations and penalties, request an informal conference, or contest them.

Lessons Learned

The tragic incident is a grim reminder that avoiding safety protocols can have severe consequences. The company failed to address hazards identified in a previous safety review to prevent the loss of a worker.

Continuous safety audits and vigilance are crucial to maintaining a safe work environment, especially after prior incidents. Strict adherence to federal regulations for hazardous energy control is imperative during machine setup and operation.

The 3M Company now reaches a critical juncture in their commitment to employee well-being and workplace safety. Employers across industries should take heed, ensuring that the lessons learned translate into actionable safety measures within their own organizations.

To avoid unfavorable outcomes in your workplace, read our extensive talk on hand tool inspections and hazards.