Lincoln paper mill faces $212,000 in federal worker safety fines

Workers at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC of Lincoln move a giant roll of paper onto a machine at the mill on March 11, 2011. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday announced that it is seeking $212,000 in fines from the papermaker for alleged unsafe work conditions.
Nick Sambides Jr.
Workers at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC of Lincoln move a giant roll of paper onto a machine at the mill on March 11, 2011. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday announced that it is seeking $212,000 in fines from the papermaker for alleged unsafe work conditions.
Posted March 16, 2011, at 7:11 p.m.
Last modified March 16, 2011, at 9:33 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC faces $212,000 in fines for what a federal agency described Wednesday as nine “alleged repeat and serious” safety violations, including a September 2010 incident in which a mill employee suffered serious burns.

“The sizable fines proposed reflect not only the severity of the hazards found here, but also the fact that several of these conditions are similar to hazards cited and corrected following our 2008 inspection of the mill,” William Coffin, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration area director for Maine, said in a statement.

“Abating a hazard but allowing it to recur puts employees at risk anew from conditions that should not have existed in the first place. They must be corrected promptly, fully and permanently for the safety of the mill’s workers,” Coffin added.

Mill co-owner Keith Van Scotter said the mill’s safety record “is not where I want it to be. However, it has improved during our tenure.”

“All of the citations OSHA discusses as part of the fine have been corrected,” Van Scotter said Wednesday. “We will meet with OSHA to understand the process, but we are not sure where we are going to go with it at this point. First and foremost we must say that we have fixed the problems they identified.”

The worker, who was never publicly identified by the company, suffered what Van Scotter described at the time as serious burns on Sept. 16 when he was hit by scalding hot water and steam during the plant’s annual maintenance shutdown. He required treatment at the burn unit of a Boston hospital.

OSHA issued the company eight repeat citations with $196,500 in fines for failing to block the steam line to prevent the steam’s release. A repeat citation is issued when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation within the last five years.

The other recurring conditions include:

— Not covering hot condensate lines with insulating materials, and unguarded open-sided work platforms.

— Not verifying that electrical equipment parts had been de-energized before employees worked on them.

— Unguarded rotating paper spool ends, fan blades and floor holes, and a failure to clean up wood debris and wood dust.

OSHA also issued the company three “serious” citations with $15,500 in fines for inadequate energy isolation devices; not maintaining flame-resistant clothing in a safe and reliable condition; and employees’ unfamiliarity with safety-related electrical work practices, officials said.

Under OSHA regulations, mill officials have 15 business days from Tuesday, the date of their receiving the proposed penalties, to comply, meet with Coffin or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA issues a serious citation when there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

Van Scotter said that since the accident, company workers “reworked our blockout protocol for the steam system to assure that those things [steam leaks] cannot happen.” At the time of the accident, he said, “We were following all the safety precautions we knew to follow.”

“We are spending a tremendous amount of management time, effort and money to make it better,” he added. “There are a long list of safety initiatives that have been under way for some time.”

Wednesday’s proposed fines mark the second time Lincoln Paper has run afoul of federal authorities. In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed a         preliminary determination that alleged the company was “engaging in a fraudulent practice to collect payments” from ISO-New England, which operates the electric utility grid in New England.

Van Scotter described himself as mystified by FERC’s accusation. The case is pending. A FERC spokeswoman declined to comment on the case when reached on Wednesday. Lincoln Paper has its own generator and can make as much as 13 megawatts of electricity to meet its own demands.

According to information available at the OSHA Website, osha.gov, Lincoln Paper and Tissue has had six inspections since March 16, 2006, that have resulted in 34 adjudicated violations and $50,895 in adjudicated fines. Those inspections predated Wednesday’s announcement, Coffin said during an interview on Wednesday.

Under OSHA processes, adjudicated settlements are those that are agreed upon by the company and OSHA following a review.

The inspection that resulted in the most fines and violations occurred on March 25, 2008, when 32 serious and minor violations were adjudicated and $35,350 in fines, ranging from $0 to $3,500 per violation, were levied as part of a settlement between the company and OSHA.

Exactly how that record stacks up against other, similar paper mills or industrial sites Coffin could not say.

“We have been in mills that have been very, very bad and mills that have been very, very good,” he said. “I have not done a hard look at it. I would say they have had a problem of not keeping corrected the hazards they identified and initially corrected.”

By comparison, the four Sappi Fine Paper mills in North America inspected by OSHA since March 16, 2006, had three serious and six minor violations adjudicated in eight inspections that resulted in $6,100 in adjudicated fines, the website states.

The company has been in operation as Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC since 2004. Located on Katahdin Avenue, Lincoln Paper and Tissue employs about 400 workers. They make deep-dyed tissue used by many of the nation’s party goods producers, airlines and food service companies to create napkins, towels, table covers and other specialty tissue products, including medical draping, disposable gowns and beauticians’ neck strips. The paper mill also produces premium-quality Business Reply Card, Offset, Index and Vellum Bristol papers.

However much companies try to prevent them, violations and accidents are a part of the paper industry, Van Scotter said.

“I will guarantee that if you walk into any large, complicated facility, you will find issues,” he said.

Further OSHA inspections of Lincoln Paper and Tissue are possible but not planned, Coffin said.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business