Company Ordered to Pay $1.5 Million in Fines and Restitution, Enter Probation, and Implement Safety Compliance Plan
JOON LLC, d/b/a AJIN USA (Ajin), an auto-parts manufacturing company, was sentenced in federal court today in Montgomery, Alabama, after pleading guilty to a charge related to the death of a machinery operator.
Regina Elsea, who was 20 years old, worked at Ajin’s Cusseta, Alabama, facility. On June 18, 2016, she entered an enclosure — called a “cell” — containing several robots and other pieces of machinery. While she was inside the cell, troubleshooting a sensor fault, one of the machines started up and Elsea was struck by a robotic arm. She died of her injuries.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to develop and utilize procedures to de-energize machinery during maintenance and servicing activities to prevent the kind of unplanned startup that killed Elsea. These procedures are often referred to as “lockout/tagout.” Ajin knew these procedures were required and had developed them, but Ajin also knew that — over a period of at least two years — supervisors did not effectively enforce them.
In the 15 minutes prior to Elsea’s fatal injury — in the presence of their supervisors — workers entered cells to troubleshoot machinery without following lockout/tagout no less than five times, and the supervisors did not take any action to stop or reprimand them. In two other instances, the supervisors themselves entered a cell without following lockout/tagout. At the time of Elsea’s fatal injury, several individuals were inside the cell, none of whom had followed lockout/tagout procedures to de-energize the machinery within the cell.
Ajin pleaded guilty to a willful violation of the OSH Act standard requiring the use of lockout/tagout procedures. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Michael Doyle sentenced Ajin to pay a $500,000 fine — the statutory maximum — $1,000,000 in restitution to Elsea’s estate, and a three-year term of probation, during which Ajin must comply with a safety compliance plan, overseen by a third-party auditor. Among other things, the safety compliance plan requires a full review of Ajin’s lockout/tagout procedures, weekly inspections to ensure compliance, and creation of a mechanism for employees to report any safety concerns about the facility anonymously.
“Regina’s tragic death was preventable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “OSH Act standards exist to protect American workers, but employers must actually implement them. When safety policies exist only on paper, tragedies like this occur. Ajin knew its supervisors and managers were turning a blind eye to the company’s safety procedures. Now, Ajin must take responsibility for its conduct. It will implement the safety compliance plan, and work to make its facility safer for its employees. Employers should be aware that they must follow workplace safety laws.”
“Every worker expects to return home safely at the end of his or her shift,” said U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Sr. of the Middle District of Alabama. “The OSH Act was passed to ensure that workers could trust that their employers create and maintain a safe work environment. While most companies abide by the OSH Act, the unfortunate reality is that some of them do not. Ajin failed to comply with the OSH Act and, as a direct result of their failure, Regina Elsea did not return home safely at the end of her shift. Her death was preventable and Ajin’s failure to keep her out of harm’s way is inexcusable. I hope this prosecution sends a message to companies that people are their most valuable resource and complying with the OSH Act is a must in protecting its employees.”
“Employers are responsible for worker safety and health, and the failure in this situation was tragic,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “Well-known safety procedures were repeatedly ignored that could have prevented this tragedy. While nothing can ever replace the loss of life, the court has sent a clear message that such disregard for worker safety is unacceptable.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Billingslea and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben M. Baxley of the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorney Erica H. Pencak of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section. The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Investigations.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.
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- F-35 Sustainment: DOD Needs to Address Key Uncertainties as It Re-Designs the Aircraft’s Logistics SystemBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is integral to supporting F-35 aircraft operations and maintenance. However, F-35 personnel at 5 locations GAO visited for its March 2020 report cited several challenges. For example, users at all 5 locations we visited stated that electronic records of F-35 parts in ALIS are frequently incorrect, corrupt, or missing, resulting in the system signaling that an aircraft should be grounded in cases where personnel know that parts have been correctly installed and are safe for flight. At times, F-35 squadron leaders have decided to fly an aircraft when ALIS has signaled not to, thus assuming operational risk to meet mission requirements. GAO found that DOD had not (1) developed a performance-measurement process for ALIS to define how the system should perform or (2) determined how ALIS issues were affecting overall F-35 fleet readiness, which remains below warfighter requirements. DOD recognizes that ALIS needs improvement and plans to leverage ongoing re-design efforts to eventually replace ALIS with a new logistics system. However, as DOD embarks on this effort, it faces key technical and programmatic uncertainties (see figure). Uncertainties about the Future F-35 Logistics Information System These uncertainties are complicated and will require significant planning and coordination with the F-35 program office, military services, international partners, and the prime contractor. For example, GAO reported in March 2020 that DOD had not determined the roles of DOD and the prime contractor in future system development and management. DOD had also not made decisions about the extent to which the new system will be hosted in the cloud as opposed to onsite servers at the squadron level. More broadly, DOD has experienced significant challenges sustaining a growing F-35 fleet. GAO has made over 20 recommendations to address problems associated with ALIS, spare parts shortages, limited repair capabilities, and inadequate planning. DOD has an opportunity to re-imagine the F-35's logistics system and improve operations, but it must approach this planning deliberately and thoroughly. Continued attention to these challenges will help ensure that DOD can effectively sustain the F-35 and meet warfighter requirements. The F-35 Lightning II is DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with total acquisition and sustainment costs for the three U.S. military services who fly the aircraft estimated at over $1.6 trillion. Central to F-35 sustainment is ALIS—a complex system that supports operations, mission planning, supply-chain management, maintenance, and other processes. A fully functional ALIS is critical to the more than 3,300 F-35 aircraft that the U.S. military services and foreign nations plan to purchase. Earlier this year, DOD stated that it intends to replace ALIS with a new logistics system. This statement highlights (1) current user challenges with ALIS and (2) key technical and programmatic uncertainties facing DOD as it re-designs the F-35's logistics system. This statement is largely based on GAO's March 2020 report on ALIS ( GAO-20-316 ), as well as previous F-35 sustainment work. GAO previously recommended that DOD develop a performance-measurement process for ALIS, track how ALIS is affecting F-35 fleet readiness, and develop a strategy for re-designing the F-35's logistics system. GAO also suggested that Congress consider requiring DOD to develop a performance-measurement process for its logistics system. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations and is taking actions to address them. For more information, contact Diana C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
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- Readout of The Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Hate Crimes Against Asian American and Pacific Island CommunitiesBy Sam NewsMarch 5, 2021The Department of Justice today held a listening session with more than a dozen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community groups as part of its continuing efforts to deter hate crimes and other unlawful acts against the AAPI community.[Read More…]
- Terrorist Designation of Abd al-Aziz Malluh Mirjirash al-MuhammadawiBy Sam NewsJanuary 13, 2021
- Bankruptcy Filings Fall Sharply for Second Straight QuarterBy Sam NewsIn U.S CourtsOctober 29, 2020Despite continued high unemployment related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, personal and business bankruptcy filings fell 21.1 percent for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2020, according to statistics released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces National Response Center and Offer to Bring Assistance to Minneapolis Police Department to Support Law Enforcement and Safe Communities Through Fair PolicingBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020The Justice Department, in an announcement by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric S. Dreiband, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Katharine T. Sullivan, and U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Erica H. MacDonald, unveiled a new National Response Center Initiative and offered the assistance to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to support law enforcement, and review, enhance and reform policies and practices to prevent the use of excessive force. The BJA Law Enforcement Training and Technical Assistance Response Center will be a national resource for all state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.[Read More…]
- Robstown man gets huge sentence for sexual exploitation of a childBy Sam NewsJune 2, 2021A 53-year-old local man [Read More…]
- Justice Department Files Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against Housing Authority in OklahomaBy Sam NewsDecember 15, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of the Town of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, along with its former employees, David Haynes and Myrna Hess, violated the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when they denied housing to an African-American applicant and her young child because of their race.[Read More…]
- NASA Telescope Named for ‘Mother of Hubble’ Nancy Grace RomanBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020At the agency’s [Read More…]
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- Disaster Recovery: COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Disaster Recovery Challenges for K-12 SchoolsBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2020Local education officials in natural disaster-affected areas told us the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and contributed to lost instructional time, staff burnout, delays in recovery projects, and financial strain in their communities. These officials explained that after the natural disaster, restoring students' mental health was a top priority. Many local education officials said that the services needed to treat trauma and other disaster-related mental health issues were not readily available in their areas, and some noted that providing mental health services has been especially difficult during the pandemic. For example, one official said that because half of her students live in poverty, they usually access mental health services through the school, and were cut off from those services during the pandemic. Some local education officials said they were also particularly worried about the effects of the pandemic on their low-income and other at-risk students, noting that these students are especially vulnerable to learning loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected districts by slowing progress on some disaster recovery projects. For example, an official in a district affected by wildfire said that an effort to restore running water to damaged school buildings was delayed due the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education (Education) supported school recovery efforts by awarding nearly $1.4 billion to assist schools in over 30 states and U.S. territories with recovery from presidentially-declared major disasters occurring between 2017 and 2019, although some local education officials reported difficulty in using these grant funds during the pandemic. Education provided this funding through the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart) and the Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant programs, among others. Local education officials from several districts and counties said that they are using or planning to use Education disaster grants to provide mental health services to students and cover other costs associated with re-opening, such as additional transportation services, but that during the pandemic this was sometimes challenging. For example, officials in two counties said that timeframes for using Restart funds, which expire after 2 years, were too short for long-term recovery needs such as mental health services, particularly with the compounding effects of the pandemic. Education officials said that grantees may request waivers to extend the end dates of these grants and that as of October 2020, no Restart grantees who experienced a 2018 disaster had done so. With regard to oversight, Education officials said they paused on-site monitoring efforts for recent disaster grants as a result of the pandemic, but have continued to hold quarterly phone calls with Restart grantees. These grantees have noted some challenges related to the grant program but have not discussed specific technical assistance needs, according to Education officials. More than 260 presidentially-declared major disasters have occurred since 2017, affecting every state and several U.S. territories, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many of these natural disasters have had devastating effects, including rendering K-12 school facilities unusable for lengthy periods of time. These schools are now experiencing the compounding challenge of recovering from natural disasters while managing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing practices and building closures are meant to keep staff and students safe, but may also complicate recovery efforts for disaster-affected districts. The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 provided funds for GAO to audit issues related to presidentially-declared major disasters that occurred in 2018. We reviewed (1) how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools recovering from recent natural disasters; and (2) support Education has provided to help school recover from recent natural disasters and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools' use of these resources. We interviewed 29 local education officials representing over 50 school districts in California, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, and Hawaii, which were selected because they were affected by a diverse set of major natural disasters in 2018 that occurred in a mix of populated and less-populated areas. In addition, through a national school superintendents association, we convened a discussion group of superintendents who have experienced natural disasters and mentor other affected districts. Finally, we reviewed federal guidance and interviewed Education officials. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- How NASA’s Perseverance Mars Team Has Adjusted to Work in the Time of CoronavirusBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020Like much of the rest of [Read More…]
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- Medical Device Maker Merit Medical To Pay $18 Million To Settle Allegations Of Improper Payments To PhysiciansBy Sam NewsOctober 14, 2020Medical device maker Merit Medical Systems Inc. (MMSI), of South Jordan, Utah, has agreed to pay $18 million to resolve allegations that the company caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE programs by paying kickbacks to physicians and hospitals to induce the use of MMSI products, the Department of Justice announced today.[Read More…]
- Cameroonian Operator Charged in Fraudulent Online “Puppy Scam” that Exploited the COVID-19 PandemicBy Sam NewsDecember 7, 2020A criminal complaint unsealed Friday in federal court in Pittsburgh charges Desmond Fodje Bobga for his alleged involvement in a puppy fraud scheme perpetrated against American consumers. Fodje Bobga, 27, is a citizen of Cameroon who is in Romania on a visa to attend a university there.[Read More…]
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