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27 Mar 2017

Peter Waldman, BloombergBusinessweek (USA)

USA: "Inside Alabama’s auto jobs boom: Cheap wages, little training, crushed limbs" - Bloomberg

[Article originally published 23 March 2017, with 13-minute audio report (scroll down to end of full article).]

Regina Elsea...went to work in February 2016 at Ajin USA [part of Wooshin Systems] in Cusseta, Ala.,...[a] South Korean supplier of auto parts for Hyundai and Kia... [Following a robotic malfunction, which occurred frequently but which the maintenance team did not arrive to resolve quickly, even though Elsea and her team had a high production quota that they rarely reached,]...Elsea grabbed a tool...and entered the screened-off area around the robot to clear the fault herself... Robot 23...[then crushed] Elsea against a steel dashboard frame...impaling her upper body with a pair of welding tips... Elsea was trapped... The rescue workers finally...locked out the machine’s emergency power switch so it couldn’t reenergize again—a basic precaution that all factory workers are supposed to take before troubleshooting any industrial robot. Ajin, according to OSHA [US Occupational Safety and Health Administration], had never given the workers their own safety locks and training on how to use them, as required by federal law. Ajin is contesting that finding... Elsea...died the next day...

[Alabama's] burgeoning auto parts industry employs 26,000 workers... [Its] factory growth...would seem to be just the kind of manufacturing renaissance President Donald Trump and his supporters are looking for.  Except that it also epitomizes the global economy’s race to the bottom. Parts suppliers...promise delivery schedules they can’t possibly meet... Employees work ungodly hours, six or seven days a week, for months on end... [Training] is scant, and safety is an afterthought, usually after someone is badly hurt... [According to OSHA, in] 2010,...workers in Alabama parts plants had a 50 percent higher rate of illness and injury than the U.S. auto parts industry as a whole... Korean-owned plants...have the most safety violations in the state...

Safety is a top priority at Hyundai’s Alabama operation, says spokesman Robert Burns, who added that Hyundai...requires suppliers to comply with OSHA standards.  After Elsea’s death, Ajin issued a statement saying all employees were being retrained in safety procedures. “Ajin USA is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Regina Elsea,” it said. A spokesman, Stephen Bradley, says the company can’t comment on the incident because of litigation... In December, after investigating Elsea’s death, OSHA fined the company $2.5 million for four “willful” citations, the agency’s most severe sanction, reserved for violators that “knowingly” disregard employee safety. Ajin is contesting the findings...

OSHA records obtained by Bloomberg document burning flesh, crushed limbs, dismembered body parts, and a flailing fall into a vat of acid.

[Also refers to Surge Staffing; to serious accidents and OSHA citations & fines against Matsu Alabama (part of Matcor-Matsu), which supplies Honda; Nakanishi, which supplies Toyota; HP Pelzer (part of Adler Pelzer), which supplies BMW; WKW-Erbsloeh (part of Walter Klein), which supplies Mercedes (part of Daimler) & BMW.  Cites worker reports of better working conditions at unionised General Motors plant in Tennessee.]