A worker at an Alabama plant making auto parts for Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors was crushed to death by machinery in June, several months after the automakers were warned of hazardous conditions at their suppliers.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a report on the death of Regina Allen Elsea that he had visited the carmakers in South Korea in 2015 and warned top managers of safety problems at their suppliers.
He cited the carmakers’ high production demands, implying that it may have driven suppliers to leave their workers vulnerable in the workplace.
Elsea, 20, was working at the Ajin USA plant in Cusseta, Alabama. The Alabama plant supplies stamp metal parts for Hyundai and Kia.
“In 2015, Dr. Michaels traveled to Korea and met with Hyundai and Kia’s top managers, warning them of hazardous conditions at their suppliers, explaining to them that the automobile firms’ production policies were endangering workers at the suppliers’ factories,” the OSHA said in a news release Wednesday.
Michaels was quoted as saying in the report, “Kia and Hyundai’s on-demand production targets are so high that workers at their suppliers are often required to work six and sometimes seven days a week to meet the targets.”
“It appears that — to reduce its own costs in meeting these targets — this supplier cut corners on safety, at the expense of workers’ lives and limbs.”
On June 18, Elsea entered a robotic station to remove a sensor error, but the robot “restarted abruptly,” OSHA said. She was killed two weeks before she was due to get married, according to the report.
Federal authorities said Ajin didn’t have “proper safety precautions procedures” to stop the machine during maintenance, along with 22 other violations found during the investigation.
“This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions,” Michaels said in the statement.
“In addition, it is unfortunate that Hyundai and Kia, who set strict specifications on the parts they purchase from their suppliers, appear to be less concerned with the safety of the workers who manufacture those parts.”
Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama said on the same day that Ajin and its other suppliers are all required to keep its “supplier code of conduct” that complies with OSHA standards for safety and training.