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OSHA Fines Wood Pellet Manufacturer $150K

For the sixth time since 2011, federal inspectors found a Wisconsin wood pellet manufacturer failed to comply with safety and health standards, putting its employees in jeopardy of suffering amputation, burns, and other life-threatening injuries.

U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors returned to Wood Fibers Inc. in Niagara in October 2015 after the company failed to provide documentation that they corrected hazards found earlier. The agency found workers still exposed to the same dangers. OSHA also found similar violations in 2011, 2012, and 2014.

On March 24, OSHA placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program and issued one willful, four repeat, and three serious safety and health violations based on the October 6, 2015, inspection. Proposed penalties total $152,460.

"Each day, Wood Fibers exposes workers to dangerous hazards that can cause debilitating illness and devastating injuries," said Robert Bonack, OSHA's area director in Appleton. "The company needs to take immediate action to fix these hazards and demonstrate its commitment to protecting employees on the job."

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Inspectors found employees operated machines without effective safeguards from moving parts, and combustible dust hazards in processing equipment and associated dust collection equipment. Between 1980 and 2005, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board identified 281 combustible dust incidents that led to the deaths of 119 workers, injured 718 and extensively damaged numerous industrial facilities.

OSHA also cited a lack of training on procedures to prevent unintentional machine operation* during service and maintenance and electrical safety violations.

Based in Niagara, Wood Fibers is a leading producer and distributor of residential and commercial heating pellets, animal bedding pellets, premium boiler fuel, and organic landscape mulch. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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