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Death at Manufacturing Plant in Fort Wayne Highlights Safety Issues in Plastics Industry

Steve Wagner

Synopsis

  • Allen County authorities say a woman was crushed to death after getting stuck in a machine at a Fort Wayne plastics factory.
  • The local coroner’s office identified the woman as a 23-year-old employee who accidentally died of multiple crush force injuries.
  • Fort Wayne Plastics is one of the nation’s largest molders of structural plastics parts and operates 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
  • There are currently no specific Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) standards for the plastics industry. However, machine guarding and energy control procedures, and other prevention measures are addressed in specific safety standards for general industrial work.
  • In addition, if working conditions are not regularly monitored for safety and compliance, workers are put at risk of suffering a fatal injury.
  • The family of deceased workers can file a wrongful death suit and seek damages against the employer under Indiana’s workers’ compensation laws.

Fort Wayne Worker Crushed to Death in Industrial Accident

The Wagner Reese team recently ran across a terribly unfortunate report from Allen County authorities that said a worker was crushed to death after getting stuck in a machine at Fort Wayne Plastics. Emergency dispatch received a 911 call from the worksite stating a woman employee was stuck in a machine. Sadly, when police and medical support arrived, the woman was pronounced dead. The Allen County Coroner’s Office has since determined that the 23-year-old woman died of multiple crush force injuries due to an industrial press accident.

Although the coroner’s office ruled the death accidental, it is not entirely clear how this tragic accident occurred. Too many times, employers will cut corners on safety, at the expense of workers’ lives. We hope this was not the case and plan to follow the investigation to see how other employees will be protected from similar possible risks. The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA), part of the Indiana Department of Labor, will likely determine if Fort Wayne Plastics was following the appropriate safety measures. The Indiana company has been building custom plastic molding solutions for more than 25 years and employs nearly 200 workers. According to the company’s website, “Capacity is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.”

Our thoughts are with the family and coworkers of this young worker.

Lack of Safety Standards for Plastics Industry Puts Workers at Risk

IOSHA says various safety and health concerns exist throughout the plastics industry, ranging from raw material manufacturing to plastics processing but there are currently no specific safety standards outlined. However, machine guarding, and other hazards are addressed in specific IOSHA standards for General Industry and Construction. Businesses are also provided guidance related to worker safety by the American National Standards Institute and Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc.

The plastics industry employs over 1.1 million workers in the United States, representing a substantial portion of the American workforce. These workers are often operating machines that are sensitive to hazards if not maintained and controlled properly. In fact, machinery operators across all fields suffer approximately 18,000 amputations, lacerations, crushing injuries, and abrasions and an average of 800 deaths each year.

Machine Guards and Effective LOTO Programs Save Lives

Plastics processing machines are complex pieces of equipment that require guards to protect employees from nip points, numerous moving parts, and exposure to high voltage and high temperature. Serious injuries including fatalities, amputations, avulsions, burns, cuts, and bruises can occur during operation. Such injuries may result from guards that are missing, improperly installed, removed, or bypassed.

Each day across the U.S., OSHA officials issue a host of citations, including exposing workers to crushing and amputation hazards due to improper machine guarding, and failing to utilize energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance. Heavy machines, like those used at Fort Wayne Plastics, may likely be guarded with a sensor or a sensor mat. These prevention and alert systems, when working properly, stop the machine from activating if a person is in a hazard zone and the machinery was not shut down, or “locked out, tagged out” also widely known as LOTO.

Injuries resulting from inadequate machine guarding are of concern due to their potential severity. IOSHA standards say that all employers must provide an effective LOTO program and personal protective equipment, such as eye and face protection, when necessary, whenever employees work on or around any piece of machinery.

Wrongful Death, Negligence, and Recklessness

When working conditions are not regularly monitored for safety and compliance per standards of the IOSHA, workers are put at risk of suffering a fatal injury. Although it’s the least common type of wrongful death accident, there are still nearly 5,000 people who lose their lives each year in a work-related incident. Often times, worker’s compensation is not enough to cover the surviving family members’ living expenses, so they can maintain their lifestyle in the absence of their loved one. A wrongful death claim in these cases can help a family carry on, even without the ongoing income and support of their loved one.

Death benefits are secured under Indiana’s workers’ compensation laws. The benefactors of the deceased person could be eligible for funeral expenses and burial costs, as well as 500 weeks of death benefit payments. These payments may be available in a lump sum, or in structured payments.

It is imperative that families are well represented by a qualified lawyer in cases like these. Workplace accidents have many dimensions, and it often requires meticulous preparation to prove negligence to the jury and negotiate with the employer’s insurers that the next of kin deserves a higher level of compensation. The employer may have counterclaims of the employee’s negligence leading to the accident, and such claims must be countered with strong facts and evidence for the wrongful death charges to stick.

Wrongful death claims are unlike any other lawsuit; they’re often complicated and filled with emotion. Calling an attorney to talk through your options can prove to be a first step toward healing.

Indianapolis Wrongful Death Lawyers

We understand that the death of a loved one is a difficult and sensitive subject, no matter how the death occurred. That is why the wrongful death attorneys at Wagner Reese want to outline your options, educate you about the legal process in a wrongful death claim, and help you understand how much financial compensation you can expect as a result of the loss of your loved one.

Contact us now at (888) 204-8440 to schedule an appointment in our Indianapolis or Carmel offices, or use our convenient, confidential contact form.

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