GRAND FORKS, N.D. (Valley News Live) – A plant in Grand Forks where 900 employees work is still under federal investigation for a coronavirus outbreak.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is looking into how 145 LM Wind Power employees contracted COVID-19 in March and April.
While that investigation remains open, past OSHA investigations reveal LM Wind Power has had trouble for “respiratory hazards.”
A December of 2018 report urged LM to perform medical evaluations on employees after a 30-year-old man died at the plant as he was hand sanding. Later, a medical examiner ruled his death was due to natural causes.
In an audio recording obtained by Valley News Live, an OSHA inspector probed an LM safety manager on the death.
“Did these guys wear or are they included in any kind of respiratory protection program or anything like that?” the inspector said.
“Yeah, they go through the whole thing. He’s gone through a medical questionnaire,” Dana Paulson of LM Wind Power responded.
In a statement, a spokesman for LM Wind Power said the employee’s death in October of 2018 wasn’t work related and what OSHA issued at the time wasn’t a citation but guidance.
“He said that he was feeling chest pains. He felt like his lung had collapsed,” Paulson said of the employee. “Well, then we sent him to the nurse, right, because we got a nurse onsite. But, he never went to the nurse. He never went to go see the nurse.”
Although it was concluded the employee died of natural causes, OSHA still urged plant leadership to perform medical tests before fitting employees with respirators.
In May of that year, the company paid a $9,200 fine after OSHA inspectors found sharp objects that can cause amputations to employees.
Moreover, LM Wind Power was fined in 2010 nearly $100,000 after an employee died onsite.
The LM Wind Power spokesman said the plant has been taking precautions since reopening in mid-May following a shutdown in April due to a coronavirus outbreak.
We reached out to the city of Grand Forks for comment. It told Valley News Live the plant is an asset to the community and the city relies on “our federal partners” to police LM Wind Power.
As for its past issues, the company’s spokesman said it has corrected those.
Below is the full statement LM Wind Power provided to Valley News Live:
“We proactively took a comprehensive set of actions at our facility in line with CDC guidelines and in coordination with local officials, including temperature checks and physical distancing measures among others, before we learned of the first cases of Covid-19 at our facility. After we learned of cases, we closed the plant and continued to pay our employees as usual. During that time, we thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the facility and expanded our safety protocols, above and beyond CDC guidelines. Before re-opening the plant, our employees went through on-site training to familiarize them with new, enhanced workplace safety protocols as part of the process we used to gradually restart production in mid-May.”
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