Robotic Machine Death

Regina Allen Elsea worked as a temporary worker at Georgia manufacturer that stamps metal parts for Hyundai and Kia vehicles.  When she arrived at work on June 18th, 2016, she didn’t realize it would be her last. 20-year-old Elsea was crushed to death in a robotic machine.  That day, the assembly line stopped and she and three of her co-workers entered a robotic station to clear a sensor fault.  However, the robot abruptly started and crushed the young woman inside the machine.  Her death occurred just two weeks before her wedding day.

OSHA investigated the incident and issued several citations to Joon LLC who was doing business as Ajin USA of Cusseta.  The citations included 23 willful, serious and other-than-serious violations, including 19 egregious instance-by-instance willful violations.  OSHA also cited two staffing local agencies for two serious safety violations each.  In all, the three companies face $2,565,621 in penalties for the federal safety and health violations.

Investigators say this tragedy could have been prevented if Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions.  Assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, said, “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.”

In 2015, Dr. Michaels traveled to Korea and met with Hyundai and Kia’s top managers.  He warned them of hazardous conditions at their suppliers, explaining to them that the automobile firms’ production policies were endangering workers at the suppliers’ factories.  Dr. Michaels said 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.  He added, “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.”

Here is a closer look at the willful citations from OSHA to Ajin USA:

  • failing to utilize energy control procedures to prevent machinery from starting up during maintenance and servicing
  • exposing workers to caught-in, struck-by and crushing hazards by allowing them to enter a robotic cell without shutting down and securing hazardous stored energy according to safety procedures
  • failing to provide safety locks to isolate hazardous energy
  • exposing employees to crushing and amputation hazards due to improper machine guarding

OSHA also issued two serious citations to Ajin USA for exposing workers to laceration hazards by allowing them to work with parts having sharp edges while improperly wearing or not wearing protective sleeves and not installing effective shields or curtains on welding machines to protect the operator and others from flying sparks.

The agency also issued two serious citations to Alliance and Joynus for failing to utilize specific safety procedures to control potentially hazardous stored energy during maintenance and servicing and not providing or ensuring employees had locks to properly shutdown machinery.

The agency has also placed Ajin USA in its Severe Violators Enforcement Program. The program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer’s facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.