A Springdale recycling facility has been fined $44,000 for violating safety regulations, after a worker died last year in a fire, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies received the fine after agreeing to a settlement that reduced the initial amount OSHA wanted to fine the company. Initial penalties against AERT were set at $51,000 this year following an extensive investigation by the federal agency, according to OSHA officials.
AERT experienced three fires in 10 days at their facilities in Springdale and Lowell last July. Three workers were hospitalized in the Springdale plant fire. One of those workers, Matthew Chwirka, later died from his injuries.
(The photograph accompanying this story shows one of the Lowell facility’s fires)
Kevin McDonald, Springdale’s assistant fire chief, said the Springdale fire started in a mixer during production.
AERT burns and mixes recyclable materials to manufacture composite building materials, according to the company’s website.
Citations against the Springdale facility for the worker’s death state, “The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death.”
Concerning Chwirka’s death, the OSHA citations state AERT did not have preventative measures in place to make sure combustible material did not enter the mixer system and create a hazard.
AERT also did not properly assess the workplace for hazards, and employees did not wear easily-removable flame-retardant clothing, the citations state.
The number of fires, and Chwirka’s death, prompted AERT Chairman Joe Brooks to address the public at the Lowell plant shortly after the third fire. He noted Chwirka’s death was the first in the company’s 25 years in existence.
While deaths are rare for the company, AERT has been cited for several OSHA violations in the last eight years. AERT’s Springdale site has been investigated by OSHA four times since 2008, with inspectors finding eight violations. Investigators found five violations at the Lowell location in two investigations in 2006, according to OSHA inspection records.
The violations at the two facilities have cost the company $32,200 in OSHA fines, not counting the most recent fine against the Springdale plant.