Montaplast is being slapped with three maximum fines of $7,000 each following the deaths of two employees at its Frankfort plant in October.
Angela Mitchell, 35, and Benjamin Cermak, 23, died days apart in unrelated accidents. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health (KOSH) issued the penalties in late March and early April, according to files obtained by The State Journal through an open-records request.
Mitchell, a set-up technician originally from Madison, Indiana, was killed after a portion of an overhead crane struck her in the head while she was attempting to change a mold in an injection mold machine on the evening of Oct. 13, the agency’s report said.
Coworker Wayne Thompson told investigators “a loud crash” alerted him to the incident, according to the files obtained by The State Journal. There, he found a forklift driver on his knees and a mold setter clutching his arm. “As I bent down to check him, him (sic) told me Angie was in the press,” Thompson said in the report.
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Categorized as “serious,” the resulting two-part citation included a $7,000 fine for allowing employees to use swivel hoist rings — the part that failed during the mold change — that were stressed beyond capacity and not periodically inspected and a $7,000 fine for not using a “lockout-tagout” safety procedure during mold changes. The report also said no personal protective equipment was used during mold changes, but no explicit mention of this made it into the final citation.
Montaplast, whose 750 employees make it Franklin County’s largest private employer, is contesting the Mitchell citation. According to an internal KOSH memo dated April 28, the company, which makes plastic parts for the automobile industry, was “not sure how to feasibly abate the citation.” Montaplast Human Resources Director John Phillips said in an email statement that the company “does not comment on active litigation.”
While safety inspectors were on-site Oct. 17 to investigate Mitchell’s death, junior tooling engineer Cermak, who had recently moved to Lawrenceburg from his boyhood home in Erie, Pennsylvania, and colleague Mike Ely went to troubleshoot the hydraulics of an injection molding machine. As Ely held the hydraulic lines in his hands, he could “feel power” in them. Then he heard Cermak say, “Oh God,” the report reads.
“At this point, the employee realized Mr. Cermek (sic) was getting shocked,” the report says. “The employee grabbed Mr. Cermek (sic) and pulled him away from the machine. In doing so, he was shocked himself.”
For their work, Cermak and Ely were using a “pigtail unit” adapter that was made in-house at Montaplast. The pigtail had been wired incorrectly, investigators discovered.
“According to employee interviews, two or more weeks prior, another employee was shocked by a similar cord,” the report reads. “However, this alleged previous incident was never documented, no injury besides a tingling sensation was reported, and was just verbally mentioned from employee to employee.”
For not assuring the pigtail was properly grounded, Montaplast received a “serious” citation and a fine of $7,000. Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health (KOSH) supervisor Jermaine Greene originally recommended that the fine be reduced to $6,000 for Montaplast’s “ready abatement of violations during the inspection and their clear demonstration of good faith,” but Director Jeffrey Foster was “not inclined” due to the “directly-related-to-the-accident nature” of the citation, according to an internal KOSH memo dated April 24.
A fair resolution
“With respect to the Kentucky OSHA case which was resolved: a fair resolution was achieved and the terms of which were satisfactory to both Montaplast and the State,” Montaplast’s Phillips wrote in his email to The State Journal.
For Ann Cermak, whose son was killed, the resolution was anything but fair. “Our hearts stopped and in a lot of ways our lives stopped that day,” Cermak told the newspaper.
In a May 24 letter addressed to Kentucky Labor Cabinet General Counsel Mike Swansburg, Ann Cermak and her husband pointed to three recommended citations in KOSH’s report, along with a dozen others, for which the company was not penalized.
“There are three separate instances, wherein citations are recommended and never issued,” the Cermaks wrote. “We would like to know why.”
They are still waiting for an answer.
“All communications with the family have been turned over to the inspector general,” Kentucky Labor Cabinet spokesman Jarrad Hensley said.
‘He trusted them as his employer’
“I just want to make sure that his coworkers are safe,” said Ann Cermak, who noted that safety violations resulted in the destruction of two families. “He wasn’t safe. I don’t want any other family to go through this. It’s awful.”
In May, the Cermaks also notified the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which oversees the Kentucky-based system. OSHA’s investigation is still ongoing, according to spokesman Eric Lucero. KOSH declined to comment on the matter.
“They didn’t even have the decency to spell his name correctly,” Ann Cermak said of KOSH’s investigation into her son’s death.
“What makes me really sad is he trusted them as his employer,” Cermak said of Montaplast. “It’s just sad.”
Montaplast did not respond to multiple phone, text messages and email requests for additional comment by press time. Founded in Morsbach, Germany, in 1958, Montaplast opened its North American subsidiary in Frankfort in 1993, according to the company’s website.
The last accident to occur at Montaplast’s Frankfort facility occurred on Aug. 1, 2012, The State Journal previously reported. In that incident, a maintenance employee was using a forklift with a boom attachment and electric chain hoist to lower a pallet of salt into a basement pit. The pallet and forklift fell into the pit, but the driver and another maintenance employee waiting inside the pit both jumped out of the way in time to avoid injury. Montaplast was cited and ultimately fined $3,250 for the incident.