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Leather plant cited in fatality

March 27, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - GST AutoLeather was handed a "serious" Maryland Occupational Safety and Health violation and a $5,800 fine in connection with the Jan. 21 death of Deanna L. Stottlemyer, according to a Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation report.

The fine subsequently was reduced to $3,000 following a hearing held by MOSH in which GST AutoLeather reacted to the initial report, GST spokesman Ralph Berry said. MOSH determined all corrective measures had been taken at the plant and that the company was found not to be negligent in the accident, Berry said.

Stottlemyer, 37, a 15-year GST AutoLeather employee, was killed when her right arm was pulled into the rollers of spraying machine No. 3, which subsequently wedged her head into that roller, according to the report.

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Five spraying machines in the finishing room in which Stottlemyer worked at the 15717 Clear Spring Road plant were cited in the violation, according to the report.

The Herald-Mail filed a Public Information request for the report in February.

MOSH said in the report that "one or more methods of machine guarding were not provided to protect the operator and other employees in the machine area from hazards such as those created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks."

When asked why the guards had not been installed prior to the accident, Berry said, "It had never been cited before."

The report states that Stottlemyer had gone to the control box to turn off the paint sprayers for spray booth No. 3 just after noon Jan. 21. Since there were no witnesses after she turned off the paint sprayers, MOSH investigators concluded from the evidence that the Martinsburg, W.Va. woman either had lost her balance and fallen through a 14-inch-wide opening on the machine or had reached into the conveyor system through a 14-inch-wide opening to retrieve something.

"In either instance, her right arm was caught by the conveyor bands and she was pulled into an 8-inch roller," according to the report.

The roller measured 6 inches above the concrete floor and was rotating at 40 revolutions per minute, the report states.

GST AutoLeather has been in business for more than 30 years, operating on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week schedule, according to the report.

Spraying machine No. 3 was closed down for about two weeks while the investigation into the accident was completed, Berry said.

Employee interviews taken during the investigation led MOSH to cite the company in connection with four other spraying machines in the finishing building of the plant, according to the report.

Investigators said in the report that employees were instructed for about four to five months to manually turn off the sprayers to spraying machine No. 3. Attached to an itemized list of five spraying machines, the report states, employees worked "near the unguarded conveyor bands and rollers on a daily basis."

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration log of work-related injuries and illnesses, in 2003, there were 54 cases of injuries recorded at the plant, 21 of which were reported by spray machine workers, most of which were minor in nature.

In one case, according to the log, a woman had fingers amputated while working on spraying machine No. 5 and was away from work for 180 days.

GST AutoLeather's cutting plant on Governor Lane Boulevard shut down production Jan. 30, and work there was sent to two plants in Mexico, where work is cheaper, GST President Mark Lecher has said.

GST AutoLeather has incurred 45 violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration codes, half of them serious, since 1988, according to the OSHA Web site.

Berry said a serious violation is anything that causes an injury.

"GST AutoLeather has had, over the years, an exemplary safety record," Berry said. "The day of the accident, in our view, was the darkest day we've ever had."

Mervin Stottlemyer, Deanna's husband, declined comment Friday. MOSH officials could not be reached for comment.

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