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Worker dies at LM Wind Power plant in Grand Forks

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Worker dies at LM Wind Power plant in Grand Forks
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

A 42-year-old man working at the LM Wind Power facility in Grand Forks died Thursday morning from injuries he suffered when he was crushed between two pieces of heavy machinery.


Joseph Francis Schaff, of East Grand Forks, was pinned for three minutes before workers freed him by reversing a lifting system that had hit him, said Lt. Grant Schiller of the Grand Forks Police Department.

The accident happened at 10:15 a.m. Police officers, paramedics and firefighters were dispatched at 10:20 a.m. to the plant in the Grand Forks Industrial Park that manufactures blades for wind turbines. Paramedics worked to resuscitate Schaff at the scene, Schiller said.

Schaff was rolled on a stretcher out the front doors of the plant to a waiting ambulance. He was taken to Altru Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:45 a.m., police said.

Schiller said Schaff was on a scissor lift, elevated about 10 to 12 feet, so he could work on an upper part of a heavy-lifting system that sits on the floor of the plant. Above that system was another heavy-lifting system running along rails fixed to the top of a concrete wall.

The two systems are remotely operated; they are independent of each other; and they can be used at the same time with a minimal amount of clearance. It was the lift that runs on rails that struck Schaff from behind, Schiller said.

"Obviously, he didn't know it was coming. It came, and as soon as it got him, it immediately knocked him over, pinched him, bent him over," he said. "It's a very massive piece of steel. It's probably the width of a car."

A police news release said Schaff "received a crushing injury to his upper body."

Police investigation

Investigators cordoned off the area of the plant where the incident occurred, and operations there stopped, though overall plant operations continued Thursday morning, Schiller said.

Officers investigating Schaff's death interviewed employees and photographed the scene. At this point, Schiller said, there's nothing to suggest the incident was not an accident.

Schiller, head of the department's patrol bureau, couldn't remember any recent emergency calls to the plant. "I think they have a pretty safe track record from what I gather," he said.

Workers standing outside the plant after the incident consoled each other, particularly one man who was visibly distraught.

Several workers declined to comment or referred questions to management. Company spokesman Dan Gordon would not answer questions, but released a statement that said, in part:

"Joseph Schaff was injured during a maintenance procedure. He was attended to immediately at the scene of the incident by staff and urgently by emergency services but later unfortunately passed away in the hospital. His family has been informed, the company has expressed its condolences regarding this tragic loss and is caring for the people affected.

"A detailed internal investigation is underway in full cooperation with the local OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) agency in Bismarck, N.D., and we will provide further information as we know more of the confirmed facts."

Company policy requires that the worker who was operating the lifting system that hit Schaff be tested for use of drugs or alcohol, Schiller said.

LM Wind Power employs more than 700 workers at its Grand Forks plant at 1580 S. 48th St. The Denmark-based company, formerly named LM Glasfiber, began operations in Grand Forks in the summer of 1999.

OSHA inquiry

Companies must report workplace fatalities or hospitalizations of three or more people to OSHA within eight hours of an incident. Tom Deutscher, OSHA's area director in Bismarck, said LM's safety director alerted his office less than an hour after Thursday's accident.

Deutscher said LM would have counselors help workers deal with the loss of their co-worker. "It's fairly traumatic," he said. "It's not an easy thing seeing your co-worker laying there dead."

Schaff was married and has two sons, ages 5 and 9, according to his Facebook page. The page lists his hometown as Dickinson, N.D., and says he graduated from Dickinson High School in 1986 and from Wyoming Technical Institute in 1990.

"My heart really goes out to the family. They didn't expect this," Deutscher said. "It's a tough deal."

OSHA records show that the LM plant in Grand Forks has been cited for violations in various safety areas since 2007, including respiratory protection; air contaminants; flammable, combustible liquids; and medical services and first aid. Deutscher said these sorts of violations are common, and that LM has been prompt to address OSHA's concerns.

LM has "taken it upon themselves to correct these issues even though some of them are difficult, very difficult," he said.

Deutscher said the plant has not committed any major violations of OSHA regulations in the past. Aside from Schaff's death, Deutscher could not recall any other such incidents that required the plant to make a report within eight hours.

Deutscher said an OSHA investigator will be assigned to gather information about the accident, and the agency will decide whether the fatality was the result of non-compliance with federal regulations.

Ultimately, he said, OSHA and company officials will sit down to answer the question, "How do we make sure this never happens again?"