Donald Trump is on his way to Springfield, Missouri today to deliver a major speech about tax
cuts reform at the Loren Cook company. Loren Cook, one of Springfield’s largest companies, manufactures fans, blowers, gravity vents and laboratory exhaust systems and employees 1,000 workers.
And the company’s executives are big Trump supporters:
Loren Cook II, vice-president of the company, contributed $2,700 in the 2016 presidential cycle, and $100 in the 2020 cycle, the News-Leader reported last week.
Gerald “Chip” Cook Jr., contributed $2,700 in the 2016 cycle.
Company officials invested nearly a quarter of a million dollars in Missouri politics in the 2016 election cycle, supporting candidates including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, Gov. Eric Greitens, gubernatorial candidate John Brunner, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Springfield Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky.
Loren Cook II also contributed to the Black Conservatives Fund.
In 2009, OSHA cited Loren Cook Co. with seven alleged willful and three alleged serious violations after a lathe operator was killed when a rotating metal object broke free from the machine, flew at 50 to 70 miles per hour and struck the operator in the head.
But Loren Cook is famous, or infamous for another reason. In 2009, OSHA cited Loren Cook Co. with seven alleged willful and three alleged serious violations after a lathe operator was killed when a rotating metal object broke free from the machine, flew at 50 to 70 miles per hour and struck the operator in the head. The company had previously removed a guard from the machine. The total penalty was $511,000, one of OSHA’s largest cases that year. According to an OSHA Press Release:
“Loren Cook Co. willfully allowed its employees to work on dangerous equipment without safeguarding the machinery and exposed workers to debris ejected while operating manual spinning lathes,” said acting Assistant Secretary for OSHA Jordan Barab. “It is imperative that employers take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment.”
Seven instance-by-instance willful citations at $70,000 each are proposed for failing to guard seven manual spinning lathes, with a total proposed willful penalty of $490,000. OSHA issues a willful violation when an employer exhibits plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.Three serious citations with penalties totaling $21,000 are proposed for a lack of adequate personal protective equipment for workers’ faces, extremities and hands. OSHA issues a serious citation when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which an employer knew or should have known.
Bad Legal Decision Overturns Case
Ultimately, however, a very unfortunate legal decision threw out OSHA’s case in 2015. The court decided that OSHA’s machine guarding standard didn’t apply to the case and vacated the 7 violations and $490,000 of the total fine. The case had a rather twisted legal history with OSHA issuing the citation, an Administrative Law Judge throwing it out, the full OSHA Review Commission agreeing with the ALJ, followed by a decision of a panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned the Commission’s decision, and finally the case being thrown out by the entire 8th Circuit, with four dissents.
One dissenting judge noted that the lathe that killed the worker had once had a guard, but that Loren Cook had removed it even thought the lathes had ejected similar parts before. ” For example, approximately
two weeks before the incident that killed the worker, a workpiece from a small lathe shot out and narrowly missed a worker twenty feet away.”
Another dissenting judge noted that:
Several employees testified as to the frequency with which the Loren Cook lathes ejected entire workpieces. While some dispute remains as to the exact percentage of workpieces ejected , it is undisputed that the accident resulting in the fatality was not an isolated or unexpected event. As noted, guards are still employed on the large lathes, the small lathes for years employed such guards, and at least one worker re-installed a guard on his small lathe after the fatality (before a supervisor removed the guard “for inspection” and before all such small-lathe guards disappeared). And, even Loren Cook’s work instruction manual stated, “The first rule of manual spinning lathe operations is CAUTION. This is one of the most difficult operations performed at Loren Cook Company. The very nature of manual spinning lathe equipment possesses the potential for accidents.”
Under the current OSHA policy, this fatality would never have appeared on OSHA’s website.
One final observation: We’ve written quite a bit over the last few days about OSHA’s unfortunate decision to remove workplace fatalities from the home page of its website, replacing them with a list where citations had been issued and the case was closed. In this case, a worker was killed in early 2009, but the case was not finally resolved until 2015, when it was dismissed by the court. Under the current OSHA policy, this fatality would never have appeared on OSHA’s website. So how OSHA’s new fatality policy (in OSHA’s words) “provide[s] useful information to help our stakeholders better understand how workers are fatally injured on the job so they can prevent further tragedies” is a mystery to me.
Despite the court’s decision, it is crystal clear that a machine guard — like the one that had been removed — would have saved that worker’s life. And covering that fact up, just because the OSHA citation was overturned in a bad court decision, doesn’t help anyone better understand how to protect workers.