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Violations Found At Raleigh Plant Where Forklift Operator Died

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An investigation into a 2010 incident in which a forklift operator at a Raleigh recycling company suffered fatal personal injuries revealed serious safety violations at the facility.


The North Carolina Department of Labor issued a report citing the Sonoco Products Company with two serious violations, according to Labor Department spokesman Neal O'Briant.


During the investigation, the company was fined a total of $9,550. It began on November 3, the day forklift operator Simon Martinez died. O'Briant said the maximum penalty that could be levied in the case was $14,000.


Sonoco, located on South Rogers Lane in Raleigh, has a deadline of 15 days to pay the fines, contest them, or request an informal conference with the Labor Department, O'Briant said.


Robin Montgomery, a spokesman for Hartsville, South Carolina-based Sonoco, said the company had not yet determined how it would respond to the report but has taken the findings seriously and corrected the issues cited.


The Labor Department's report said the first violation directly related to the forklift Martinez was using on the night of his death. That violation yielded a fine of $6,300. The report said the Toyota-manufactured forklift had been modified by Sonoco without the approval of the manufacturer.


The report said the original forks on the lift had been removed and a locally manufactured steel scoop was added. The report also noted that the data plate on the equipment had not been updated to reflect the change.


O'Briant said that a second violation, involving a serious fire risk, was discovered during the investigation, but was not related to the death. According to the report, an oxygen cylinder was mounted on a welding cart, with gauges, hose, and torch attached, which was adjacent to three 55-gallon drums of petroleum products. That violation yielded a $3,250 fine.


O'Briant said the Labor Department has the power to levy up to $7,000 for each serious violation. Penalties depend on the severity of the violation, the size of the business, whether the employer has any safety violations in the past three years, and whether the company cooperates with the investigation.


O'Briant said that in this case, labor department records won't detail any mitigating factors until the case is finalized.


Martinez was a contract worker at Sonoco's Raleigh facility, where paper, plastic, and cardboard are gathered, sorted, and baled for shipping. He had been employed there for about eight months when he was killed.


The facility has been in operation since 2006 and at the time of the accident, employed 20 full-time workers and 60 contractors.

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