OSHA and Marshall Pottery have reached a settlement agreement following the Easter Sunday death of Marshall Pottery assistant plant manager Arturo Gonzalez who died on the job after becoming trapped inside of a 300-foot kiln.
The machine superheats the clay pots as part of the production process.
"On April 16, 2017, investigators determined that the manager was servicing a kiln and became trapped inside when it activated," OSHA officials said Tuesday in a press release. "The company was cited for six willful violations and 21 serious violations. Citations were issued following OSHA's investigation into failures to implement confined space and lockout/tagout programs."
As part of the settlement, Marshall Pottery agreed to pay a penalty of $545,160. Basil Singh, OSHA area director in Dallas, said the company's failure to implement lockout/tagout and confined space programs was unacceptable.
"This company was cited for similar violations in 2008 after another fatality at the plant," Singh said, referring to the 2008 death of 33-year-old Frederick Beham, also a supervisor at the plant, who was found crushed to death inside of a dryer on July 3, 2008, after attempting to perform maintenance.
"Employers must use all required safeguards and procedures to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies," Singh said.
Following Arturo's death this spring, OSHA gave Marshall Pottery 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, OSHA officials said.
"Upon receipt of the citations and penalties, the company scheduled an informal conference with the OSHA area director," officials indicated. "At the meeting, OSHA and the company reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to abate the violations."
The two inspection reports, totaling 39 violations, are listed here and here. OSHA is a branch of the United States Department of Labor that enforces standards and provides training to ensure safe and healthy working conditions. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.
Marshall Pottery notified OSHA about Gonzalez's death at the time of the incident, as required by law.
The company expressed its gratitude to OSHA on Oct. 24, during an informal conference with the OSHA area director.
"At that time, Marshall Pottery conveyed its gratitude to OSHA for the comprehensiveness of the OSHA investigation and the significant investment of time and resources that OSHA's investigating officers and directors afforded Marshall Pottery," a statement emailed to the News Messenger by Marshall Pottery's HR Manager Morris Jones, on behalf of the company, read. "Marshall Pottery also presented OSHA with extensive documentation that evidenced Marshall Pottery's abatement of the hazards that were identified during the investigations, and documentation evidencing the implementation and enforcement of a comprehensive and energetic safety program. Marshall Pottery then entered into a settlement agreement with OSHA that called for a significant reduction of the proposed penalties."
Besides OSHA's informal investigation, Marshall Pottery also conducted a comprehensive internal investigation as result of the tragic industrial accident.
"These investigations took place over the course of several months and identified areas in which improvements were necessary," Marshall Pottery officials said of both the company and OSHA's investigations. "At the conclusion of the initial investigations, and prior to restarting operations, Marshall Pottery worked with teams of safety professionals and contractors to make all of the improvements that were identified as necessary.
"Marshall Pottery also provided comprehensive safety-related training to its representatives and employees. Marshall Pottery proceeded to an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director on Oct. 24."
Marshall Pottery officials said the facility, which has been a part of the East Texas community for more than 100 years, has the distinction of being the largest manufacturer of terra cotta pottery in the country. The company described Arturo as someone who was a cherished and invaluable member of its team and has expressed remorse for the tragic death.
"Marshall Pottery is more committed than ever to providing its employees with a place of employment that is free of hazards," Marshall Pottery's statement indicated.
Arturo was found dead inside of the kiln the morning of April 17 after entering the kiln the evening before, to perform maintenance. The cause of death, according to his autopsy report was accidental "environmental hyperthermia."
In May, following his death, Gonzalez's family filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit in the 71st Judicial District Court, accusing the business of not having safety protocols in place to protect employees, who are often required to perform maintenance on machines.
"While Mr. Gonzalez was inside the kiln, the automated system suddenly, and without warning, closed the kiln doors behind him, the chamber began heating and Mr. Gonzalez was killed," the lawsuit states.
Gonzalez, a husband and father of three children, had worked at the facility for the past 11 years. He was 42 years old.