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OSHA launches investigation into Marshall Pottery death

By Robin Y. Richardson
May 17, 2017 at 4 a.m.


OSHA, a branch of the United States Department of Labor that enforces standards and provides training to ensure safe and healthy working conditions, is investigating the April 17 death of Arturo Gonzalez at Marshall Pottery, the News Messenger has confirmed.

"The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has an open and ongoing investigation into this fatal incident," Juan Rodriguez, deputy regional director for the US Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs-Dallas Region, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.

Rodriguez noted that the employer, Marshall Pottery, notified OSHA about Gonzalez's death at the time of the incident, as required by law.

"No other details are available until the investigation is complete," Rodriguez said.

Arturo, who was a supervisor at Marshall Pottery, was found dead inside of a kiln the morning on April 17. The cause of death, according to his autopsy report was "environmental hyperthermia."

The autopsy was conducted at Forensic Medical of Texas in Tyler by forensic pathologist Robert Lyon. The report notes the manner of death as an accident.

According to the incident report taken by Marshall Police Department, officers were alerted around 6:59 a.m. on Monday, April 17, that someone was "stuck" in the kiln at Marshall Pottery, and was possibly deceased.

Marshall Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) units also responded to the scene after being informed that a man was reportedly stuck in a piece of equipment and possibly dead.

"Medical units arrived to find a male individual unresponsive and not breathing," Marshall Fire Chief Reggie Cooper told the News Messenger, following the incident. "The victim was not entangled with any equipment and firefighters removed him from the building, but did not transport," Cooper said.

Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Judge Clarice Watkins pronounced the 42-year-old dead at 7:52 a.m.

Gonzalez, a husband and father of three children, had worked for the company for the past 11 years.

His is not the first fatal incident to occur at Marshall Pottery while on the job.

Past fatality

According to court records, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed in 2008 on behalf of the survivors of Frederick Beham, who was also a supervisor at the pottery. According to the lawsuit, which was first filed in Marshall's federal court in December 2008 and then transferred to the 71st Judicial District state court in April 2009, 33-year-old Beham was found crushed to death inside of a dryer on July 3, 2008. The dryer was used in the process of manufacturing pottery.

"Marshall Pottery had a long standing practice of requiring all employees, not just the mechanics, work on any equipment that was in a down condition and do whatever it took to get the machine up and running again," the lawsuit claimed.

The machine he was found in had a long history of breaking down and the common practice for employees, including supervisors, was to place themselves inside the dryer under the rollers so that they could wrench the trays loose.

"There was no mechanism to 'lock out tag out' the dryer when an employee had to go under the rollers to knock a tray loose," the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit alleged that none of the employees were provided with safety training or mechanical training on the machinery that they were expected to operate, maintain and repair. Further, all instructions regarding the dryer were written in Italian and no employee was ever provided with instructions in English regarding the safe and proper operation of the machine.

"Frederick Beham went under the rollers to knock a tray loose as instructed and as he had done many times before. Prior to going under the rollers, he placed the machine in manual mode. Sometime after he knocked the tray loose, the machine began to run again, either because another employee came by and switched the machine back to auto not realizing that Beham was beneath the rollers (which was common), or because the machine unpredictably restarted itself as it had done many times in the past. When the machine restarted, it crushed Frederick Beham to death."

The lawsuit explained that there was no way to lock the mechanism into the manual mode, and it was in an area from which the entire length of the rollers could not be seen, such that another employee could switch the machine back into auto mode, without realizing that there was an employee under the rollers attempting to knock a tray loose. And, in an unpredictable manner, when the machine was placed in manual mode, it would independently restart without warning.

It is not clear as to what occurred in Gonzalez's case, as it is still being investigated by OSHA.

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