When 20-year-old Regina Elsea began working for a Cusseta manufacturer in Alabama in 2016, stamping parts for Hyundai and Kia vehicles, she had no idea of the risk she was taking. Just a few months after starting her job at the auto plant, a machine broke down, halting production completely. The workers had quotas to hit before the end of the day, and called maintenance over immediately to repair the machine, but help never came. After attempting to fix the malfunctioning machine herself, Elsea was caught and injured, leading to her death a mere 2 weeks before her wedding.
Regina Elsea is one example of the many unfortunate workers who endure hazardous conditions in auto manufacturing plants in southern states. In a report by the U.S. Department of Safety and Labor, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, stated “This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions.” After investigation, the plant was issued citations for 23 violations, some of which were classified as willfully endangering to the workers.
In Elsea’s case, she, along with her fellow workers, had not been trained in proper safety procedures, including how to safely lock the machine when it was malfunctioning. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that learning this procedure, which is federal law, likely would have saved Regina Elsea’s life. A month prior to her injury, the plant Elsea worked at was notified of safety violations that resulted in 8 other workers’ injuries, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Auto manufacturing plants are common in the south, especially in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. However, South Carolina takes the cake as the leader in the auto manufacturing economy in the United States, which, according to The Huffington Post, is continuing to grow. Learning proper safety procedures should be a priority for these manufacturers, but workers report that the higher-ups repeatedly remind them of the need to meet production demands at all costs. Often, this means failing to teach new workers proper machine safety, or refusing to provide tired workers with necessary breaks, or installing affordable safety mechanisms on dangerous machines.
While the U.S. Department of Labor monitors these issues and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues citations and fines for violations, the problems persist. In 2014, Nathaniel Walker, a factory worker in Pell City, Alabama, fell into a vat of acid while cleaning ventilation ducts. His plant did not cover the vats, as they should have, nor did they supply workers, like Walker with gangways, gables, or handrails to help them balance while performing their duties. In 2015, a maintenance worker caught fire in a manufacturing plant in Winterville, Georgia, after the company failed to address 4 recent duct fires.
Reco Allen, who worked the night shift at a Matsu Alabama plant to support his 3 children, lost his arm in an accident with a heated press in 2013. Allen hadn’t been trained in proper operating procedure for the machine, and the safety bar that was supposed to protect him failed. Reports later revealed that the plant manager had recently recommended a $6,000 safety beam be installed for the machine that later injured Allen, but the company’s vice present opted for a $150 safety bar instead.
When large, powerful companies blatantly ignore the federal laws set in place to uphold safety procedures, every worker should remain watchful and aware. Know when to exercise your right to safe working conditions and seek justice if you or a loved one has been wrongfully injured at work. In the case of Regina Elsea, her mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company and continues to fight for justice on her daughter’s behalf. An investigation has also been underway to learn more about the causes of Elsea’s death. Reco Allen sued the company he worked for when he suffered his arm injury and reached a multimillion-dollar settlement. However, when asked about his settlement, Allen responded, “I’d rather have my arm back any day.”
To learn more about the hazardous cost accompanying the boom in the auto manufacturing industry in Alabama, visit Bloomberg.com.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury at work or you endure unsafe work conditions, don’t wait to seek legal help. Contact Jordan Law Center, today to find out if you have a personal injury case!