OSHA fines candy maker Wrigley Manufacturing $8,000 after worker dies on the job

photo Wrigley Manufacturing plant in Chattanooga

State investigators faulted Wrigley Manufacturing in the October 2013 death of a 34-year-old employee at the Chattanooga plant, according to the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Mandie Rachael Creel Chitwood died on Oct. 21, a day after a forklift hit the ladder she was climbing and she was thrown into a 8-inch diameter pipe in the plant.

Wrigley Manufacturing must pay $8,575 in fines by Sunday after investigators for TOSHA found two serious and seven non-serious violations at the plant during the investigation.

The investigation revealed the details of the accident and what steps Wrigley has taken to prevent a similar accident from happening again.

On Oct. 20, Chitwood was working in Wrigley's Life Saver Gummie Department when a conveyor jammed. She set up a ladder in order to unclog the jam, but to reach it she had to set up the ladder in the forklift traffic lane.

This happened often at the plant, the TOSHA investigation found. The conveyor jams on a daily basis, employees said, and usually the forklift operators would see the ladder in the traffic lane and stop.

But this time, the forklift operator didn't stop, and a forklift carrying two pallets of mint Life Savers smashed into the ladder, which toppled and sent Chitwood flying. Her husband and other first responders cared for her until paramedics arrived.

She died the next day. She was a 1997 graduate of Ringgold High School and a wife and mother, according to her obituary.

The accident was Wrigley's fault, the investigation concluded, because the candy maker did not have any procedures in place to warn forklift drivers when the traffic lane was blocked -- despite how often employees set up the ladder in the lane to unclog the conveyor.

The $8,575 fine was calculated based on TOSHA's field operations manual, said TOSHA administrator Steve Hawkins.

"The amount of the penalty varies depending on the hazards cited and several other factors, including the number of employees exposed, the frequency and duration of the exposure, and severity of the anticipated injury," he said. "Penalties are also adjusted based on the size, good faith and history of the employer."

Since the accident, the company has worked to make the department safer, said Caroline Sherman, U.S. manager of marketing communications at Wrigley. The company has added new safety equipment and formalized work instruction on ladder safety, she said.

Now when an employee climbs up a ladder to unclog the conveyor, the employee first sets up a temporary gate at the either end of the aisle, then sounds an air horn while working in the aisle, according to TOSHA. In addition, employees use a spotter to warn and stop any approaching traffic.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.