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Brittany Lawonn, Published October 03 2007

DMI employees return to work

Employees at DMI Industries in West Fargo are expected to return to work today, one day after a co-worker died after being struck by a steel plate during material handling operations.

Grief counselors will be available to help employees deal with the death of 37-year-old Jeffrey Mousseau of Fargo, who was acting as a spotter about 1:45 a.m. Tuesday at the wind tower manufacturing plant.

Mousseau was on one side of a trailer being loaded with scrap metal by an overhead bridge crane, DMI Executive Vice President Matt Gadow said Tuesday.

“The load actually struck the employee and crushed him between the load and a vertical (stationary) post of some sort,” said Bruce Beelman, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Bismarck.

A trailer full of scrap metal can be loaded with between 8 and 12 tons of material, Gadow said. The weight of the scrap metal in Tuesday’s accident is unknown, he said.

West Fargo police were called just before 2 a.m. after receiving a report that a man was severely injured at the plant. Mousseau, who had worked at the plant for eight months, died at the scene, Capt. Mike Reitan said.

OSHA has cited the plant in the past for health and safety violations, but “nothing that they were cited for in previous inspections (in the past three years) would have been related to this particular accident,” Beelman said.

Most recently, the plant was cited in July for overexposure to zinc oxide fumes during welding operations, which can cause lung damage, Beelman said.

No penalty was issued for the citation that stemmed from an April inspection, he said.

Two inspections in December 2005 led to five citations and $9,500 in fines. The plant had one serious safety citation, one repeat safety citation and one other safety citation, Beelman said.

There were also two serious health-related citations, he said.

It is not uncommon for a manufacturing plant of DMI’s size to have serious violations from time to time, Beelman said.

Safety conditions – including complaints of poor ventilation resulting in sickness – led some DMI employees to organize a movement to consider joining a union earlier this year. The decision to unionize was overwhelmingly rejected in an April vote.

Teamsters Union Local 120 in Fargo said Tuesday it would resume organizing DMI employees to discuss unionizing as soon as labor laws allow, according to a news release.

The union cannot conduct another representative election until April 2008, the release said.

Gadow said he could not comment on safety issues, but said there would be too much speculation to say there was a correlation between concerns of employees hoping to unionize and Tuesday’s accident.

OSHA has begun an investigation, which is required for all work-related fatalities, Beelman said.

“Obviously, we want to determine what caused that to take place and we also want to make sure that no other employees are exposed to that same pattern,” he said.

The plant, which immediately shut down after the accident and canceled all shifts scheduled for the day, will work with OSHA’s investigation, Gadow said.

The accident has been difficult on the company’s roughly 364 employees, Gadow said.

“DMI has never had an accident of this magnitude,” he said. “We’re greatly saddened by it. You see a lot of shocked looks on people’s faces.”

DMI Industries has operations in West Fargo and Fort Erie, Ont., and is starting up in Tulsa, Okla., Gadow said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541