AL auto parts manufacturer fined $2.5M after woman's workplace death

AL auto parts manufacturer fined $2.5M after woman's workplace death
(Source: AJIN USA website)
(Source: AJIN USA website)

CUSSETA, AL (WTVM) - Ajin USA, the auto part manufacturer that supplies parts to KIA and Hyundai, and two staffing agencies were slapped with a $2.5 million fine by the U.S. Department of Labor after a June 2016 accident that killed a 20-year-old east Alabama woman.

On June 18, a robot malfunction on the assembly line crushed 20-year-old Regina Elsea, of Five Points, AL, a temporary worker at the plant. The investigation showed that she and three other coworkers went into a robotic station to clear a sensor fault when the robot "restarted abruptly," and crushed her. She died the next day in an Alabama hospital.

An investigation by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued citations for 23 "willful, serious, and other-than-serious violations" to Ajin USA's parent company Joon LLC, based in Korea. These including 19 "egregious instance-by-instance willful violations."

"This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea's employers had followed proper safety precautions," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "In addition, it is unfortunate that Hyundai and Kia, who set strict specifications on the parts they purchase from their suppliers, appear to be less concerned with the safety of the workers who manufacture those parts."

At the conclusion of its investigation, OSHA also cited two staffing agencies working under Alliance HR Inc. and fined them a total of $2,565,621 in penalties for the federal safety and health violations.

OSHA issued willful citations to Ajin USA for:

  • Failing to utilize energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance and servicing.
  • Exposing workers to caught-in, struck-by and crushing hazards by allowing them to enter a robotic cell without shutting down and securing hazardous stored energy according to safety procedures.
  • Failing to provide safety locks to isolate hazardous energy.
  • Exposing employees to crushing and amputation hazards due to improper machine guarding.

"This was a preventable incident – Ajin USA only had to ensure that proper safety measures were followed to de-energize the robot before the workers entered the station," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. "Incidents like this one are not isolated and that is why OSHA has developed and implemented its Regional Emphasis Program on Safety Hazards in the Auto Parts Industry."

OSHA has also placed Ajin USA in its Severe Violators Enforcement Program. The program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

"Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations," the report concludes.

Ajin USA has 15 business days to contest the findings of the investigation.

Trip Walton, Attorney and CEO of Walton Law Firm, P.C. in Auburn, AL, issued a statement Thursday morning on behalf of Elsea's family, saying:

Walton Law Firm, P.C. is currently representing the family of Regina Elsea in the tragic incident while she was employed at AJIN in June of this year.  We are aware of the recent OSHA report that was released, fining AJIN USA of Cusseta and two staffing agencies – Alliance Total Solutions and Joynus Staffing Corp 2.5 million dollars and citing 27 safety violations.  We are pleased with OSHA's thorough investigation.  However, due to this being an ongoing investigation, we have no further comment at this time.

To read the full U.S. Department of Labor report, click here.

Copyright 2016 WTVM. All rights reserved.