Weyerhaeuser Fires Plant, Safety Managers for Recordkeeping Abuses: How Did an Application to OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program Lead to $77,000 in Fines, a Corporate Settlement Agreement, and the Firing of Two Managers? the Answer Wasn't in the Books

Article excerpt

When Weyerhaeuser vice president Don Berry announced late last year he was promoting plant manager Len Komori to be a general manager, the first reason Berry gave was, "Len's plants consistently display a strong safety culture and achieve business-leading safety performance."

Less than a year later, following an expose published on Occupational Hazards.com, the company announced it had discharged Komori for failing to record 38 injuries and illnesses at the Buckhannon, W.Va. plant he managed until his promotion Dec. 1, 2003. Weyerhaeuser also fired the safety manager of the facility, Dick Curry.

"These actions reinforce the gravity with which our senior management views this incident," said company spokesperson Frank Mendizabal. "Following safety practices is a condition of employment with Weyerhaeuser."

Exception or Rule?

Ironically, the problems began when Buckhannon, one of 16 plants belonging to Weyerhaeuser's Trus Joist subsidiary, applied last year to join OSHA's prestigious Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Admission to VPP is an honor reserved for worksites that have exemplary safety and health programs--and recorded injuries and illnesses that are below their industry average.

The firing of Buckhannon's plant and safety managers indicates that, in the end, Weyerhaeuser senior management chose to hold the two accountable for putting their own careers ahead of keeping accurate OSHA injury and illness logs.

But are Komori and Curry scapegoats for a cultural problem that extends beyond one Weyerhaeuser facility? Because of the rewards it gives to managers with low injury rates, does Weyerhaeuser bear some responsibility for the recordkeeping failures at Buckhannon?

Internal company e-mails and sources familiar with the case indicate some Weyerhaeuser executives knew of Buckhannon's recordkeeping problems before Komori was promoted.

Marie Cassady, an OSHA deputy regional administrator who worked on the corporate settlement agreement, explained that while the agency is not currently concerned about Weyerhaeuser's recording processes, it does believe that the Trus Joist subsidiary "has an institutional problem" with recording injuries and illnesses.

That's why the July 19 agreement that settled the recordkeeping enforcement action at the Buckhannon facility calls for third-party audits of the OSHA logs at all 16 Trus Joist facilities.

By the Book

OSHA's Philadelphia regional office assigned Chrysoula Komis to do Buckhannon's initial VPP audit in 2003. Komis's suspicions were aroused when she discovered a large number of first aid cases that were not recorded on the OSHA log, so she asked for copies of medical records and the workers' compensation paperwork.

At this point, Curry, the plant's safety manager, wrote a July 11, 2003 e-mail to plant manager Komori filled with damaging admissions that OSHA later seized upon in its inspection report.

"I had no idea the audit would be this intense," Curry wrote. He also discussed "doctoring the records," keeping them internal, and withdrawing the VPP application. Elsewhere in this e-mail, Curry states:

* He has reviewed incident investigations for 2000 and "found six which would fall under recordability if [OSHA inspector] Chrys [Komis] reviews them."

* He knows he will find more injuries in 2001, 2002 and 2003 that would be recordable but have not been recorded;

* He confesses he was "afraid OSHA would smell blood and dig deeper," and concludes, "I think, in the future, we will have to go 100 percent by the book."

But after Curry sent his e-mail, "going 100 percent by the book" is what the company did not do.

A Plant is Fined, Its Manager Promoted

"Several memos were sent to Komori, telling him there was a problem because the OSHA recordkeeping logs had been falsified," said a former employee. …


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