ROCKFORD — Behr Iron & Steel pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to willfully violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations resulting in the death of an employee at the company’s South Beloit facility, 201 Wheeler Ave., two years ago.
Alfredo Arrendondo, 39, died after his arm was caught in a moving, unguarded conveyor belt at the facility on March 10, 2014.
According to a press release prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice, the metal scrap processing plant failed to provide lockout and tagout protection and confined space protection as required by OSHA regulations for employees tasked with cleaning a metal shredder discharge pit. The company admitted these violations caused Arrendondo’s death.
“Justice cannot restore life to the victim whose body was crushed because Behr Iron and Steel failed to provide protection from dangerous machinery on the job,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Ken Nishiyama Atha. “Safety training at the plant was woefully insufficient. Behr must be held responsible by the courts for ignoring safety standards and failing in its obligation to protect workers on the job.”
According to the plea agreement, OSHA regulations require employers to adopt procedures that ensure dangerous machines are properly shut off during maintenance and servicing work, including placing a lock on the power source and a tag on the lock warning that the machine cannot be operated. Additionally, OSHA regulations require safety precautions for workers in confined spaces.
A Behr spokesman released a prepared statement from the company:
“Everyone at Behr was, and remains, deeply saddened by the death of our employee. While we had safety programs in place prior to the accident, since the accident we have worked with OSHA to create a safety program that we believe is unmatched in our industry, and we have met or exceeded all of OSHA’s recommendations for creating such a program. The safety of its employees will continue to be a priority for the company.”
At the Behr facility, according to a press release from the United States Attorney’s office in Rockford, shredded metals fell onto a conveyor belt located underground in a discharge pit approximately 6 feet long and 6 feet wide. Some metals fell off the belt into the pit, and one or two employees were sent down to clean it out daily by shoveling the metals from the floor onto the moving conveyor belt. That’s what Arrendondo was doing when he was killed.
Behr admitted in the plea agreement there was no lock or operable emergency shut off switch in the discharge pit, and the conveyor belt did not have guards to protect employees. Further, the company admitted that employees in the pit were not adequately trained to use the shredder or the conveyor belt, and there were not confined space protections for employees entering the pit.
The company faces a maximum sentence of 5 years’ probation and a maximum fine of $500,000, and it must pay restitution to the victim in an amount to be determined by the court. Sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on July 12.
Behr Iron and Steel, based in Rockford, is a subsidiary of Joseph Behr and Sons Inc., a recycling company founded in 1906. According to reporting in 2015 by the Beloit Daily News, the company employs about 450 people at 14 facilities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. The South Beloit facility employs 62 workers.