So to have two in one location in a short period of time is unusual just by the sheer numbers that are involved here.
Tennessee OSHA investigators say the Wrigley Manufacturing Co. plant was negligent in the death of an employee who was crushed to death in February.
The Jersey Pike plant was cited 10 times for "serious" safety violations, including failure to properly train employees like 54-year-old employee Wallace Scarbro. The company has paid a $28,000 fine following an investigation into his death, which was ruled an accident.
Scarbro, of Tunnel Hill, Ga., was operating a tray de-stacking machine in the Life Savers department of the factory on the night of Feb. 2, when he stopped the machine to clean away debris. But the machine's track started running during the cleaning, and Scarbro was too far from its controls — 80 feet away — to stop a stack of trays from pinning and crushing him.
Scarbro suffered fatal blunt force trauma to his torso during the ensuing compression and died at the scene.
Scarbro had been working at Wrigley for 18 months. His wife and daughter also are employed by Wrigley's plant. They did not respond to requests for comments.
Scarbro was the second Wrigley employee in three years to be killed on the job, following the death of 34-year-old Mandie Rachael Creel Chitwood in 2013.
The fatalities have raised concerns at the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Steve Hawkins, administrator of TOSHA, said Monday that there are approximately 3 million employees working for 140,000 employers across the state. Last year, the state safety administration investigated 29 Tennessee workplace fatalities.
"So to have two in one location in a short period of time is unusual just by the sheer numbers that are involved here," Hawkins said.
Hawkins also said the $28,000 levied against Wrigley following Scarbro's death is one of the highest handed down in the state this year, and is considered "significant" by TOSHA standards.
TOSHA officials take into account previous violations and incidents — especially repeat incidents of a similar nature — when penalizing companies, he said.
In addition to fines and safety citations, Wrigley's Chattanooga plant also was directed, under threat of further penalties, to fix several problems discovered during the investigation into Scarbro's death.
Those issues have been addressed, say officials with the Chicago-based candy maker.
"Following February's tragic accident, we conducted an internal assessment and have already modified our safety programs to comply with the TOSHA citation," Wrigley said in a statement.
The company also said it is continuing "to mourn the loss of Wallace Scarbro" and that "safety is and always will be Wrigley's top priority."
Included in notes from TOSHA's February investigation into Scarbro's death are eyewitness accounts that paint the machine operator as a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of unfortunate but fatal circumstances.
According to one Wrigley employee interviewed by investigators — all names are redacted in TOSHA's report — Scarbro was normally the number two operator of the machine he was working the night of his death.
According to one employee, the more experienced operator generally was responsible for cleaning the machine but was out that day on vacation the night of the accident. Also, Scarbro's back-up operator was taking a lunch break when the accident happened.
Some eyewitnesses from that night told TOSHA investigators they knew Scarbro's situation was dire, even before emergency personnel arrived.
"Just by looking at him, I knew there wasn't anything I could do so I needed to call an ambulance," said one worker.
Copies of Scarbro's safety reports show he aced a safety quiz in May 2014, and that he had attended and completed Wrigley's safety classes.
The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's autopsy showed no alcohol or drugs in Scarbro's system, other than a little caffeine.
While Scarbro reportedly failed to properly tag out the machine he was working the night he was killed — the procedure of disconnecting a machine from its power source and placing a red tag on its controls to warn other operators it is being cleaned or undergoing maintenance — TOSHA's investigation determined Wrigley's tag out procedure was either unknown or ignored by handfuls of employees on the manufacturing floor.
It was a major point investigators pointed to as a contributor to Scarbro's death, and a major point to be corrected going forward. Wrigley officials say they already have ushered in new tag out classes and training to prevent another accident.
And while there have been nine reported employee injuries — two of them fatal — at Wrigley's Jersey Pike location since 2013, the plant is currently in no danger of being handed an emergency order to stop work.
Hawkins said TOSHA can issue a stop-work order if a company knowingly places its employees in imminent danger and refuses to yield to TOSHA correction.
"It doesn't happen often," he said. "But it has happened a few times."
Still, Wrigley's Chattanooga plant, with its 275 employees, has landed on TOSHA's running violator list each of the last three years.
Hawkins said the state safety agency takes every case seriously.
"It's really not the financial cost that seems so staggering to us, as it is the human cost when a person is killed at work," he said. "The impact of that can't really be overstated."
Also, "the vast majority of those absolutely could have been prevented," he said.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.