OHS Canada Magazine

Federal agency wants to fine Wisconsin sawmill $1.4 million for violations found after teen’s death

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December 20, 2023
By The Associated Press

Global OHS News Fines Sawmill Wisconsin

Photo: Maria Church/Canadian Forest Industries

A federal agency wants to fine a northern Wisconsin sawmill more than $1 million after inspectors said they found “egregious” violations at the site following a June accident that killed a teenage worker.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday that it proposed fining Florence Hardwoods LLC $1.4 million for numerous violations of federal safety and health regulations, including for “the most serious violations the agency issues.”

Florence Hardwoods previously agreed to pay nearly $191,000 and stop hiring children under the age of 16 to settle a federal lawsuit labor regulators filed against the mill, which is in northern Wisconsin along the border with Michigan.

That lawsuit was filed after 16-year-old Michael Schuls died July 1, two days after he was injured at the sawmill, where other child employees were also injured in a string of accidents.

“It is incomprehensible how the owners of this company could have such disregard for the safety of these children,” Douglas Parker, the assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, said in a news release. “Their reckless and illegal behavior tragically cost a boy his life, and actions such as theirs will never be tolerated.”


OSHA had opened an inspection case looking into Schuls’ death, in addition to a companion health inspection of Florence Hardwoods, which produces lumber for wood finishing and molding companies.

The agency has proposed a $1,313,204 penalty in the Schuls death and a $68,752 penalty in the companion case, according to letters dated Monday that OSHA sent the company, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.

Schuls died after he became pinned in a wood-stacking machine as he was trying to clear a jam, according to Florence County Sheriff’s Office reports obtained by The Associated Press through open records requests.

OSHA said it has cited Florence Hardwoods for eight willful, six repeat, 29 serious and four other-than-serious violations of federal safety and health regulations. Five of the willful citations were categorized as “egregious — the most serious violations the agency issues.”

Florence Hardwoods said Tuesday that it plans to appeal the findings.

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 Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

“We have been notified of OSHA’s findings and penalties and do not agree with its representation of what occurred, nor do we agree with their characterization of our company’s safety practices,” Florence Hardwoods said in a statement.

The company added that Schuls’ death “was, and continues to be, devastating for everyone who knew him, including all of us at Florence Hardwoods.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division previously found that aside from Schuls’ death, three children, ages 15 or 16, suffered injuries at Florence Hardwoods between November 2021 and this March. One child was injured on two separate occasions.


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