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OSHA: Tonawanda Coke worker’s death was preventable; levies fine

The death of an employee at Tonawanda Coke could have been prevented, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Buffalo office said Thursday, following an inspection.

The 60-year-old employee, Richard Wade, died Jan. 6 after he was pulled into the rotating shaft of a coal elevator.

As he prepared to grease and lubricate the elevator, his jacket was caught, pulling him on to the rotating shaft, OSHA said.

The company neither shut down the elevator at the River Road plant, nor locked out its power source prior to Wade servicing the equipment, as required by OSHA’s standards, the agency said.

Additionally, the company “failed to train employees on how to use energy-control procedures,” OSHA said.

“Training employees on lockout procedures and ensuring those procedures are used would have prevented this needless loss of a worker’s life,” Michael Scime, OSHA’s Buffalo area director, said in a statement. “Compounding this tragedy is the disturbing fact that OSHA cited Tonawanda Coke in the past for not following the requirements of the lockout standard.

“Yet, the company exposed both the victim and another employee who greased and lubricated plant equipment to these same hazards,” Scime said. “This is unacceptable. It is Tonawanda Coke’s responsibility to eliminate these hazards once and for all and protect its employees.”

OSHA proposed a total of $175,200 in fines connected to the alleged violations.

The company faces two “repeated” and six “serious” violations of workplace safety standards. The agency said the repeated violations are based on similar hazards the agency cited during inspections in 2010 and 2014.

Scime said the proposed dollar amounts connected to the alleged violations were the maximum allowed under federal law, as set by Congress.

Tonawanda Coke, which produces foundry coke, received the citations on Tuesday and has until July 26 to decide whether to have an informal conference with OSHA or to contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. “We haven’t heard from them yet,” Scime said.

A Tonawanda Coke representative did not return a message to comment.