Fremont factory hit with 25 serious federal safety violations after worker's injury
Federal workplace safety officials have issued 25 serious citations and proposed $178,000 in penalties against a Fremont packaging manufacturer after a worker there suffered serious burns in February.
The 25-year-old International Cushioning Co. worker's arm burns required a trip to the hospital, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a statement.
The company did not report the incident within the required 24 hours, the agency said, and the local fire department ultimately flagged federal officials about fire hazards at the plant.
The plant, which opened in 2020, had already been facing seven other serious OSHA violations from 2021, records show. New Jersey-based International Cushioning makes several types of packaging including foam, bubble wrap, and cardboard products, according to its website. Company officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal officials said the worker was removing foam from a machine when a static discharge ignited isobutane, a flammable gas. The heated foam melted on the worker's arm and caused second-degree burns.
“A young worker might have been spared these serious injuries if International Cushioning Company met specific federal standards for the safe operation of foam manufacturing equipment,” said Todd Jensen, OSHA's area director in Toledo, in a statement. “During our initial inspection in Fremont, inspectors found additional issues and identified more than two dozen violations and related hazards the company must address before other employees are harmed.
“This company must address what appears to be a workplace culture where employee safety is not emphasized and workers are exposed to serious injuries,” Mr. Jensen added. “We will use all enforcement powers at our disposal to protect workers."
OSHA officials reported they found fans not meant to be used in hazardous areas, which created fire hazards, and learned that the employer failed to give workers spark-resistant hand tools. Inspectors also found the company also did not provide adequate protective equipment for workers' hands, arms and feet.
The company was also cited for failing to report the employee's burn injury within 24 hours, allowing operation of certain machinery without safety guards, failing to adequately train employees, and multiple other issues.
A second inspection in March discovered unsanitary conditions, including some that exposed workers to fire hazards, and found the company did not have an emergency action plan, or adequate protections for worker hearing, among other problems, officials said.
Though the inspections occurred in February and March, OSHA informed International Cushioning of the violations and proposed fines on August 5. Spokesman Scott Allen said in a serious case like this one, it often takes several months to complete an investigation. The company has 15 business days after receiving the citations to request an informal conference with OSHA officials, where it can seek to lower the $178,000 in fines.
The facility was also inspected a year ago. Back then, it was hit with serious citations related to fire extinguishers, hazard communication, an issue with exit routes, lacking machine safety procedures, and adequate guards around machinery. OSHA proposed fines totaling almost $38,000, but they were negotiated down to $18,000, records show.
International Cushioning started operating in 2020 at the Fremont facility, 2101 Cedar St., two years after a company called Fremont Plastics closed and left 200 without jobs, according to the Fremont News Messenger . Officials said then that the company expected to employ 75 people.