FLORENCE, WI – Despite federal regulations barring young workers from operating dangerous machinery, the management of a Wisconsin sawmill allowed several minors workers to perform maintenance on equipment without training or following required safety procedures.On June 29, 2023, a 16-year-old worker became trapped in a stick stacker machine as he tried to unjam it. The young worker remained trapped until he was found and freed, and then transported to the hospital where he passed away two days later. “There is no excuse for allowing underage workers to operate this type of machinery,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “Federal child labor and safety regulations exist to prevent employers from putting children at risk. They also exist to hold employers like Florence Hardwoods accountable for endangering these young workers.” Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Florence Hardwoods LLC failed to train teenage and adult workers in safety procedures to prevent dangerous equipment from moving during service and maintenance tasks. OSHA found minors exposed to these dangerous hazards which immediately led to an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division. The day after the teen’s death, the mill’s operator terminated all of the children’s jobs.Investigators also found fall, machine guarding and electrical hazard violations at the Florence sawmill, similar to infractions they were cited for in 2020.Since 2019, at least five employees of Florence Hardwoods, Sagola Hardwoods and Minerick Logging have suffered serious injuries due to lockout failures, including a fatality at Minerick Logging where a worker suffered fatal injuries while servicing a trailer in 2019. “It is incomprehensible how the owners of this company could have such disregard for the safety of these children,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker. “Their reckless and illegal behavior tragically cost a boy his life, and actions such as theirs will never be tolerated.”The agency cited the company for eight willful, six repeat, 29 serious and four other-than-serious violations of federal safety and health regulations. OSHA categorized five of the willful citations as egregious – the most serious violations the agency issues. The agency has proposed nearly $1.4 million in penalties for Florence Hardwoods and placed the company in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.The completion of the OSHA investigation comes after a federal consent order and judgment entered in September 2023 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Green Bay Division, ordering Florence Hardwoods to comply with, Fair Labor Standards Act’s child labor provisions and pay $190,696 in civil money penalties to resolve its child labor violations. The court action followed an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division. Florence Hardwoods verified to the court that no one under the age of 18 is now employed by the company. In February 2023, the department announced the creation of an Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation to better align federal efforts to protect children from exploitative situations in the workplace. In fiscal year 2023, department investigators identified child labor violations in 955 cases and assessed employers with more than $8 million in penalties.Based in Florence, Florence Hardwood produces hardwood lumber for wood finishing and molding companies. Learn more about OSHA and lockout/tagout procedures.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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