OSHA Had Cited Wisconsin Mill 3 Times Before Fatal Explosion

August 1, 2008

The Wisconsin paper mill where an explosion killed three workers earlier this week received three citations for safety violations in the past 10 years, including one that was serious, according to a federal Web site.

The violations at the Packaging Corp. of America’s Tomahawk plant occurred in 2006 and 2007. An online review dating back to 1998 turned up no other infractions.

The most recent violation was last year, when the Lake Forest, Ill.-based company was cited but not fined for failing to keep an aisle cleared, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Web site.

The company was cited twice two years ago and paid $887 to settle allegations that machines lacked proper safety guards. One of those citations was classified as serious, meaning there was a “substantial probability” of death or serious injury, according to OSHA.

The other two citations at the mill were not classified as serious, which means they weren’t likely to cause a fatal illness or injury.

OSHA also cited the company’s plants in Burlington and in Colby in 2001 for safety violations. The Burlington citation was for a serious violation and carried a $1,500 fine.

The company did not immediately return messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The three workers killed Tuesday were performing maintenance work atop a recycled fiber storage tank when it exploded. A fourth employee was standing on a platform at a lower level of the tank, the company said.

On Wednesday, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department identified the workers killed as Randy Hoegger, 56, of Tomahawk; Donald Snyder, 46, of Merrill; and Steve Voermans, 52, of Tomahawk.

Voermans was a supervisor for the Town of Harrison.

The injured man, Alex Loka of Tomahawk, was treated at a hospital and released.

Deaths are relatively rare in the paper manufacturing industry, which employed 472,000 people nationwide in 2006. There were 17 that year, the most recent for which data are available, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The sheriff’s department, OSHA and the company are investigating the explosion in what a company spokesman described as “a storage tank for pulp.”

The Tomahawk mill is part of a large complex spread over several blocks. It has three semi-chemical corrugating machines and produces more than 572 million tons annually, the company said.

Packaging Corp. of America, which makes containerboard and corrugated packaging products, operates four paper mills and 67 corrugated product plans in 26 states. According to the company’s Web site, it employs 8,350 people nationwide and posted sales of $2.3 billion last year.


Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.


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