3M Knew Process Was Dangerous Before Fatal Accident, OSHA Says

According to federal investigators, the death at the company's Wisconsin plant could have been avoided.

In February 2022, a 63-year-old worker was killed at a 3M (NYSE: MMM) plant in Alexandria, Minnesota. The worker became entangled with a machine during the overnight shift. 

A few months after the accident, the company assessed its equipment at U.S. and Canadian plants. According to OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan, after 3M completed its investigation, it "determined powered rollers were hazards in need of safety improvement."

In May 2023, a worker was helping set up a plastic extrusion line at a 3M manufacturing plant in southwestern Wisconsin and died after becoming caught in a machine's rotating rollers. According to OSHA, the death in Prairie du Chien could have been avoided if the company had followed federal workplace safety regulations and heeded its own advice. 

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OSHA investigators found that 3M violated federal regulations for the control of hazardous energy, more commonly known as lockout/tagout, during machine setup, servicing and operation. The company also failed to implement energy control steps when employees set up the production line by threading fiber material through powered rollers by hand while the rollers were rotating. 

Workers at the plant were even allowed to circumvent machine guarding to cut and remove wrapped fibers from rotating powered rollers and to remove fibers from the floor, which exposed them to caught-in hazards. 

The safety agency assessed $312,518 in proposed penalties for two willful safety violations. 

The company has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference or contest the findings.

IEN reached out to 3M, and the company provided the following statement:

"The safety and health of all our employees is our top priority, and we are deeply saddened by this tragic incident. Over the last six months, we have worked closely with federal workplace safety and health regulators in connection with their inspection of our Prairie du Chien worksite. In addition, 3M has continued to implement improvements and investments to help prevent similar incidents in the future and communicated these improvements to our employees at the worksite.

"We are currently in the process of evaluating the Occupational Safety Health Administration's Citation and Notification of Penalty, and we will continue to work with the Department of Labor to address this matter."

3M is based in Maplewood, Minnesota, and operates 40 factories in the U.S. The company employs some 34,000 workers in the U.S., including about 500 in Prairie du Chien. 

According to OSHA's Donovan, "The company must address these hazards immediately to protect employees from serious injuries or worse."

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