Auto parts manufacturer ALJoon LLC received a fine of $500,000 and agreed to pay $1 million in a criminal case over the 2016 death of a temporary worker at its facility in Cusseta, Alabama, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced last week. The company was sentenced after entering a guilty plea to one count of willful violation causing death to an employee.
The worker, Regina Allen Elsea, was a temporary machine operator who died on June 18, 2016, after suffering crushing injuries.
“Well-known safety procedures that could have prevented this tragedy were repeatedly ignored,” said Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
ALJoon, which operates as Ajin USA of Cusseta, became the subject of this criminal prosecution after OSHA cited it in 2016 for 23 violations — including 19 egregious willful violations for failing to use energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting during maintenance. The company makes parts for Hyundai and Kia cars.
The day she died, Elsea entered an enclosure containing several robots and other pieces of machinery to troubleshoot a sensor fault, according to court documents. Then one of the robots energized and Elsea was struck by a robotic arm which pinned her against another piece of machinery. Her co-workers were able to free her and perform first aid; however, she died after being transferred to a hospital in Birmingham.
Court documents say the company was aware employees were not following lockout/tagout procedures. Video footage from the 15 minutes prior to Elsea entering the robotic cell showed five other instances where operators entered robotic cells without following lockout/tagout procedures, documents also reported. Two supervisors who had been observing the behavior had entered robotic cells themselves.
The US Department of Labor reported back in 2016 that Elsea, 20, was making plans for her wedding at the time. In written messages sent to the court for sentencing, Elsea’s father said his daughter had been trapped by the machine for hours before being extricated.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Ajin said it was deeply saddened by the accidental death of Elsea. “At Ajin, our employees are our most valuable resource and safety is our most important priority,” according to the statement. “Ajin has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice throughout the investigation of the accident. The company is fully committed to continuing to make our workplace as safe as possible for our employees.”
Initially, Ajin and two staffing firms — Alliance Total Solutions LLC and Joynus Staffing Corp. — together were fined some $2.5 million in 2016. David Michaels, assistant secretary for labor at the time, said the manufacturer appeared to cut corners to meet production targets for Kia and Hyundai.
In addition to the financial payments in last week’s announcement, Ajin USA must follow a three-year safety compliance plan and the company will remain on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, according to the judgment.