A scrap metal processor has agreed to pay $350,000 to the family of a worker who was killed when he was pulled into a shredder.
On March 10, 2014, Reynaldo Hernandez-Ortega, 39, was cleaning a shredding machine at Behr Iron & Steel’s plant in South Beloit, IL, when his arm was caught and he was pulled in. An autopsy showed he died of traumatic asphyxia. In other words, he was choked to death by the machine.
The payment is part of a sentence Behr received after it pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count in Hernandez-Ortega’s death. The company will also be on probation for five years. Federal prosecutors had charged Behr with violating OSHA requirements in connection with the death of the father of two. Behr pleaded guilty to failing to provide lockout-tagout protection and confined space protection.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Iain Johnston said while the law allowed him to also issue a fine to Behr, he didn’t feel he could do that because the company said an additional fine would cause it to go bankrupt, putting 300 people out of work.
“This should never happen in 2014 and in this country,” Johnston said during sentencing according to the Rockford Register Star.
The probation and payment to the family were the sentencing terms requested both by the prosecution and the company’s attorney.
According to court documents, the shredder at one time had a working emergency shut-off switch, but it kept malfunctioning. At some point, a decision was made not to fix the switch, according to prosecutors.
Behr has also paid almost $288,000 in a workers’ comp settlement, $7,600 in funeral expenses and an initial $3,000 payment to the dead worker’s family.
It also paid $520,000 in OSHA fines and agreed to abate 36 violations.
Add all the costs together: This employee death has cost Behr almost $1.17 million, and that’s before other indirect costs are added to the total.
Behr has almost a dozen plants in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.