First on 12 | OSHA cites International Paper for safety violations in man's death

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- The investigation into the death of a man at International Paper found safety violations at the plant.

Mike Hill died this summer after the cab of a large crane detached, throwing him 70 feet to the ground.

OSHA found two "serious" violations during their investigation at International Paper. News 12 obtained both of those citations that explain what led to Hill's death.

One citation discovered the gantry crane Hill was operating "did not have proper braking means."

To understand what that means, you have to understand the crane.

"If you can, picture a swingset with wheels on it, except it runs on a track. It's got two tracks on each side where the legs of the swing set would be, and it moves this way," former International Paper employee John Ferguson said as he motioned his hands foward and backward horizontal to the ground.

The cab, where Mike Hill would be, sits about 70 feet in the air and moves along the top bar.

According to the citation, "the crane traveled down the rail track about 600 feet and slammed into the rail stops, causing the cab to dislodge from the trolley surface ejecting the operator from the cab of the crane."

Hill was pronounced dead on the scene.

"The bottom line of it is somebody got killed. Somebody's family member is dead, and that's sad. And avoidable. I'm sure it was," Ferguson said.

The second citation faults the plant for "failing to ensure [Hill] was wearing the seat belt while in the operator's seat."

Each violation cost the plant $7,000.

"The electric bill is probably more than that for a day at that company," Ferguson said.

For a company that net 23.6 billion dollars in 2014, according to their annual report, the combined $14,000 find is hardly noticeable. OSHA says the plant has paid the full amount.

"It's ridiculous. I think that's ridiculous. I mean, that's a slap on the wrist to these big companies you know," Ferguson said. "I mean $14,000? Forty-thousand dollars is nothing. Four-hundred-thousand might make them think a little bit."

News 12 reached out to International Paper after the investigation finished up to ask if any safety measures were heightened after Hill's death. International Paper representative Samantha Cook released two statements:

    "We have fully cooperated with OSHA throughout their investigation and accept their findings. The well-being of our people is our top priority and this incident is a tragic reminder of why we are committed to safety in everything we do as a company. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our team members."

    "The mill team has worked together to implement redesign improvements and enhance our safety management systems. We take seriously our most important responsibility - which is to ensure everyone works safely every day."