published Monday, November 26th, 2012

TAG Manufacturing cited in death of worker in Chattanooga

This photo from TOSHA shows the machine at TAG Manufacturing where Larry Chubbs fell through paneling on a catwalk was killed. The arrow points to the panel that became dislodged.
This photo from TOSHA shows the machine at TAG Manufacturing where Larry Chubbs fell through paneling on a catwalk was killed. The arrow points to the panel that became dislodged.

FATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES

In Chattanooga Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Hamilton, Marion, Sequatchie, Walker, Dade and Catoosa counties.

* 2010: 7

* 2009: 9

* 2008: 12

* 2007: 10

* 2006: 8

* 2005: 7

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

State officials have fined a Chattanooga manufacturing company nearly $16,000 in the death of a plant worker this spring.

TAG Manufacturing worker Larry Chubbs, 54, was killed May 7 when a panel of a catwalk on a large machine became dislodged and he fell into the fast-moving machinery below.

Chubbs' body was discovered by another worker about two hours after the accident, after he missed a weekly safety meeting. His shirt and hat were found near the machine.

After investigating the conditions surrounding Chubbs' death, the Tennessee Department of Labor slapped the company with $14,500 in fines for five safety violations deemed "serious" and an additional $1,350 for nine "nonserious" citations.

"TAG did not furnish employment or a place of employment that were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, in that employees were exposed to the hazard of falling into the [machine]," the main citation states.

TAG, which manufactures large steel parts for construction equipment, has contested that penalty and three others.

"This was a horrible accident -- a perfect storm of unlikely events," said the company's attorney, Mike Carter. "Larry Chubb was a good man. He was well-liked, and he did a good job. And this has been devastating to the owners of this company, because they knew Larry and liked him. To say we put him on a machine that we knew had this level of danger and that we didn't care is highly offensive. That's why we've appealed."

Chubbs had worked at TAG several years before the accident but left.

He recently had gone back to work there as a temporary employee through an agency.

His main task was to run a blaster machine called a Wheelabrator that cleaned large pieces of steel.

The job involved walking out onto a catwalk panel to blow off the parts emerging from the cleaner and hook them with a large nylon strap.

When workers found Chubbs' body in the machine, they found the panel from the catwalk with him.

A state examiner claimed that none of the bar grating panels on the catwalk were welded, bolted or bracketed in place. The panels would only have to shift slightly for them to fall, the examiner said.

Several witnesses told the investigators they had noticed the rickety panels before. In one case, a worker took it upon himself to straighten a bent panel.

"I remember being [irritated] because it could fall," said the witness, who was not identified in the report.

But other witnesses said they had no idea how the fall could have happened.

"I can't answer it. I don't know. I've stood right there hundreds of times," one witness said.

While the finding about the catwalk drew the largest penalty, others were levied for not having railings or boards guarding runways along large equipment, and for not developing specific lockout-tagout procedures for the Wheelabrator.

Carter said the company had five safety studies conducted for the machine -- three by private engineers and two by Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials.

"Not one of those investigations found any problem with this machine, nor did the company recognize any problem with this machine. It has run hundreds and hundreds of times with no problems," he said. "We're being held to a standard higher than even the people citing us could see. And we think that creates an impossible manufacturing atmosphere."

The appeal is being handled by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Meanwhile, Chubbs' family has hired an attorney and has been negotiating with his temp agency to receive worker's compensation funds, said Carter. Attempts to reach Chubbs' family were unsuccessful.

Fabricated metal manufacturing accounted for 47 deaths nationwide in 2010, or 1 percent of all workplace fatalities that year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' national census of fatal occupational injuries.

Chubbs' death is one of three occupation-related deaths in the Chattanooga area this year. In October, two subcontract construction workers fell from scaffolding at the Wacker Chemical plant in Charleston, Tenn.

TOSHA officials say results of the investigation into the deaths of Hugo Mendoza, 45, and Luis Ochoa, 31, will not be available for four to six weeks.

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