WYOMING, Mich. (WZZM) – Grand Rapids Plastics, Inc. has been hit with a $558,000 fine for safety violations at its plastic injection molding plant, including omissions that led to a worker's gruesome death last June when he was crushed by a press.
That is the conclusion based on three inspections conducted by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration following the June 27, 2014 death of Russel Scharenbroch. The fine is among the largest ever issued against a West Michigan company.
Grand Rapids Plastics was fined $220,000 for five violations linked to Scharenbroch's death. An additional $338,000 in fines are for nearly four dozen violations uncovered in a follow-up inspection of the plant, which makes plastic injection molding products for automotive, construction, home and recreation sectors.
Scharenbroch, 34, of Morley was inside a massive press cleaning the machine even though safety procedures were not followed. Another worker cycled the machine while Scharenbroch was inside, fatally crushing the married father of six.
Several violations are classified as willful, meaning the company knew about the hazard but opted not to comply with MIOSHA standards. When a company receives a willful violation, the case is sent to the state Attorney General's Office for review to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
A MIOSHA inspection concluded Scharenbroch and other employees were not trained in lockout procedures that would have prevented the press from being energized while being cleaned.
Grand Rapids Plastics did not enforce lock-out safety procedures, MIOSHA determined. The family-run company was also cited for assigning workers to other tasks without providing adequate training.
Scharenbroch's father says he hopes Grand Rapids Plastics takes to heart the findings and recommendations from MIOSHA's nine-month investigation.
"They were training people the wrong way and that's not right,'' Russel Scharenbroch Sr.said Thursday from his home in White Cloud. "I hope there's change, they needed to do something about it.''
The size of the fine will hopefully send a message to other employers about the importance of training and workplace safety, Russel Scharenbroch Sr. said.
"Companies should know about it and train their people better so accidents like this don't happen,'' he said.
Grand Rapids Plastics did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.
A day after the accident, hundreds of employees held a vigil on company grounds to honor Scharenbroch's memory. The Wyoming Park High School graduate joined Grand Rapids Plastics in 2009 and worked as a process technician.
The initial investigation into Scharenbroch's death brought to light "many other safety hazards,'' the MIOSHA report says. That prompted MIOSHA to launch a companion inspection June 30 of all five buildings at 4220 Roger B. Chaffee Blvd. SW.
A third inspection was conducted Sept. 3 after a worker complained Grand Rapids Plastics was not requiring pedestrians to use designated walkways and did not furnish safety glasses free of charge.
As a result of the three inspections, 55 citations were issued, including nine classified as "willful-serious'' citations.
Grand Rapids Plastics was founded in 1976 by Arthur Bott Sr. as a single-plant operation. It was sold in 2001, but Bott, with help from his son Jerry Bott, reopened the business two years later. It employs up to 200 workers with annual revenue reported to be about $35 million.
Scharenbroch's death was one of 37 workplace fatalities in Michigan last year, the highest level in four years. Nearly 25 percent of all worker deaths in 2014 occurred in West Michigan counties.
In April, 2014, criminal charges were filed against the owner of Black River Builders of Holland after one of its workers plunged to his death in 2012 while working on a roof deck at the Federal Mogul Plant in Sparta.
Joe Novak of Holland was charged with a safety violation causing death, which is punishable by up to a year in jail. That case is set to go to trial this summer.
The July 2, 2012 death of death roofer Brian Tarachanowicz was the result of a willful violation, MIOSHA concluded. It assessed Black River Builders a $28,000 penalty.