State Fines Regions in Worker Death

9:22 PM, May 2, 2005   |    comments
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Regions Hospital faces $75,000 in fines in connection with an accident that claimed the life of a worker last November. Tracy Kraling had been married only six weeks when she became trapped in a walk-in equipment cleaner, and was severely scalded. The 31-year-old Roseville woman died a day later at the Regions burn center, as a result of those injuries. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, acting as O.S.H.A. in Minnesota, announced the fines on Monday. Department inspectors found three violations of workplace safety rules, and by Minnesota law each violation carries and automatic fine of $25,000 Department spokesman James Honerman told KARE 11 on Monday, "Because there’s a fatality here that caused or contributed to, there’s a non-negotiable penalty of $25,000 per penalty." Honerman says the number of on-the-job fatalities in Minnesota averages about 72 a year, “A lot of those fatalities are due to falls at workplaces or people being struck by things that fall and hit them. In this case somebody was caught in a piece of machinery, and that is another high cause of work place fatalities.” Kraling was a newlywed who worked in the Regions animal research laboratory. Her job required her to clean cages and other equipment in a large walk-in sanitizer which uses steam to heat instruments to 180 degrees. Initial reports were that Kraling was inside the cage cleaner when it started running, and was unable to stop the machine or free herself. By the time co-workers discovered her she had already suffered severe scalding. At the time of the accident, state officials described the industrial cage cleaner as "functioning like a dishwasher" in that closing the door would trigger the wash cycle. Regions has never discussed the mechanics of the equipment, commented on its history, or allowed the media to view the lab. A former Regions employee told the St Paul Pioneer Press in November that she had written a memo five years ago recommending replacement of the machine, but that Regions had chose instead to hire a New York consultant to rebuild it in 2000. Regions staff members were quoted in the same Pioneer Press story as saying they did not recall such a memo. Details of the inspections were not made public, but each OSHA citation pointed to a specific safety rule involving equipment safety. One of them states,“employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without special knowledge or tools..” The second.. “the guarding device... shall be designed and constructed as to prevent the operator from placing any part of his body in danger zone during the operation cycle.” The third rule cited was.. “each machine shall be equipped so it’s possible for the operator to cut off the power without leaving the position at the point of operation." Hospital staff would not comment on camera today, but issued a statement, "We received a citation from OSHA regarding this incident. Because this matter is still pending, we cannot comment further at this time." The statement went on to mention the fallen employee, "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Tracy's family and her colleagues." Regions has notified the Department of Labor and Industry that the hospital plans to contest the findings and the fines. The Labor Department's Honerman told KARE 11 that the two sides would probably hold a negotiating session. As Honerman put it, "We work with the employer to try to settle the case. Everybody wants to put the accident behind them and move ahead." Tracy Kraling's husband, Brad Kraling, has not commented publicly on the incident or Monday's news of the citations. His attorney, Chris Messerly of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ceresi told KARE 11 that no lawsuit has been filed yet. He said the family is working with the hospital in hopes of avoiding court action.

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