US Dept. of Labor proposes nearly $2.5 million in penalties for Phenix City sawmill after 2023 fatality

US Dept. of Labor proposes nearly $2.5 million in penalties for Phenix City sawmill after 2023 fatality

A federal investigation into an August 2023 horrific fatal incident at a Phenix City sawmill revealed, for the second time in three years, that the employer could have prevented a tragedy by following required safety rules. 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, responding to reports by first responders, found that a 67-year-old sawmill supervisor at MDLG Inc., operating as Phenix Lumber Co., had climbed on top of an auger to access a difficult-to-reach area to unclog a woodchipper. Because of multiple failures by the employer to protect him, the machine started while the employee was on top of the auger. The 20-year employee was caught in the machinery and fatally injured.

“Phenix Lumber’s willful disregard for the well-being of their employees leaves another family to grieve the loss of their loved one. This must stop,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta. “This worksite has become all too familiar to OSHA. Phenix and its owners have a legal responsibility to follow federal safety laws that are meant to prevent the exact hazards that cost this employee’s life.” 

In response to the August 2023 fatal incident, OSHA cited Phenix Lumber Co., as well as its owners John Menza Dudley Jr. and Leslie Elizabeth Dudley, with 22 willful violations, one repeat violation and five serious violations, totaling $2,471,683 in proposed penalties. Specifically, the agency found the employer failed to:

  • Ensure employees used energy control procedures to prevent the unexpected start-up of machines while performing maintenance and servicing activities such as clearing jams. 
  • Ensure the use of lockout/tagout devices on machinery when performing maintenance.
  • Provide training to employees on the purpose and function of the energy control program, as well as ensure they have the knowledge and skills required for the safe application of energy control measures. 
  • Maintain guarding on machines that posed amputation hazards to employees. 
  • Require fall protection to be used in work areas above four feet. 
  • Require employees operating a forklift to wear a seatbelt. 
  • Maintain fire extinguishers in a fully charged and operable condition. 
  • Ensure an electrical disconnect was located in direct line of sight from the equipment being locked out.

Prior to these citations, Phenix Lumber Co. had been inspected four times in the past five years, including a fatality inspection in 2020 that resulted in the agency citing the company with four willful and 10 serious violations.

OSHA added the employer to the agency’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program in 2020, a program for employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations that could lead to fatalities or catastrophic injuries. Employers remain on the list until they can demonstrate certain criteria and safety standards within a three-year timeframe. 

Phenix Lumber Co. has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the  Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission