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OSHA proposes fine after Mativ employee died in mill accident

WHITING, Wisconsin (From news reports) - The owner of a Whiting paper mill faces a fine of more than $55,000 from federal inspectors after an employee's arm got stuck in a machine and he died earlier this year.

Mativ also recently agreed to pay nearly $9,500 to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration in another case where an employee was injured at the mill in March.

OSHA issued citations to the company in both cases this fall. Local media requested and received the documents from the agency on Tuesday.

"The safety and well-being of our employees is our number one priority," said Jason Free, Mativ's executive vice president of operations, in a statement Wednesday.

"Mativ has been fully cooperating with OSHA through its investigation," Free added, "and we remain committed to maintaining high operational safety standards across our global facilities. Abatement efforts to address these concerns and other safety enhancements have either been completed or are in progress."

Headquartered in Georgia, Mativ operates two Wisconsin mills, in Neenah and Whiting, which produce materials for the company's packaging and specialty papers business unit. It also owns a converting center in Neenah. Mativ formed last year when Neenah Inc. merged with Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc.

How did the employee die?
Joshua Vyse, 40, was fatally injured May 14 while working at Mativ's Whiting mill, 3243 Whiting Road, less than 5 miles south of Stevens Point.

Law enforcement responded to the facility shortly after 12:45 p.m. that day. Witnesses said they did not see everything that happened, but there was a jam and Vyse's arm got stuck in a paper machine, according to a report from the Portage County Sheriff's Office. Fellow employees stopped the equipment and were able to free their injured coworker, the report states.

A medical helicopter was called to the mill, and emergency responders attempted to provide life saving measures, according to the report.

The sheriff's office finished its investigation that month and determined Vyse's death was an accident.

At the time, Mativ said it was also "actively investigating the cause of the incident."

Why did OSHA cite the mill?
OSHA opened an inspection May 15, looking into the fatality. The agency found four violations and proposed a fine of $55,806, according to a Nov. 1 letter that OSHA sent the mill.

OSHA's citations involve issues related to items used to stop a machine in case of an emergency, as well as guarding and lockout devices that protect employees from hazards, the document shows.

The company has 15 business days after receiving the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupation Safety and Health Review Commission, the agency said.

What happened in the case where an employee was injured?
OSHA opened another inspection at the Whiting mill on March 30.

Eight days earlier, a forklift was used to lift and maneuver cotton bales in the stock prep area, according to the citation that OSHA issued Sept. 1 for one violation. The forks were elevated when the final steel band on a stack of bales was cut, and the bales fell and struck an employee, the citation says.

Mativ agreed to pay $9,488, and OSHA closed the case Nov. 3, according to the agency's website.


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