Grand Island employer penalized after worker gets stuck in industrial baler and later dies

By: - August 4, 2022 4:50 pm

Waste cardboard is stacked at a recycling center. (Getty Images)

LINCOLN — The U.S. Labor Department has issued multiple citations against a Grand Island recycling company where a 20-year-old suffered fatal amputation injuries last winter upon getting stuck in an industrial cardboard baler.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleges that Mid-Nebraska Disposal disregarded federal regulations designed to prevent such tragedies.

The company was cited for 18 violations related to machine safety, training, fall hazards and permit-required confined space safety requirements, according to a Thursday statement.

‘Life was cut short needlessly’

OSHA proposed penalties of $337,903 and has placed the company in its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.” Inspectors also reported an active rodent and vermin infestation in the facility.

“A 20-year-old’s life was cut short needlessly; he was on the job for just nine months,” Matt Thurlby, OSHA area director in Omaha, said in the media statement. “Employers are legally obligated to safeguard dangerous machinery and use required safety procedures for entering confined spaces.”

The worker has been identified as Gavin Schwartz of Grand Island.

Mid-Nebraska Disposal, which offers residential, commercial and industrial recycling and compost services to 15 Nebraska communities, has 15 business days after receiving its penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Includes two willful, 15 serious violations

The company did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

OSHA’s investigation of the Feb. 7 incident found that the worker was feeding cardboard waste into the baler when debris jammed the machine. As the young worker tried to remove the stuck cardboard, he reportedly fell into the machine. He died the following day at a hospital.

OSHA alleges that the company failed to ensure that energy sources were locked out, which would have kept the machine’s operating parts from moving while the worker cleared the jam. The 18 violations were identified as “two willful, 15 serious and one other than serious” charge.

In the statement, Thurlby said employers also are required to follow all safety precautions and train workers to de-energize and lock out a machine before clearing jams or providing service or maintenance to prevent serious or fatal injuries.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.