GREER, SC (WSPA) — The recycling plant where a man went missing while operating a shredding machine was cited by state officials for additional safety violations after an investigation following the disappearance.

Industrial Recovery & Recycling, located in Greer, was fined almost $34,000 by the South Carolina Occupational Health and Safety Administration for 12 violations found during inspections between June and October.

The agency began investigating the disappearance of Duncan Alexander Burrell Gordon, 20, of Greer, in May.

The plant had been cited in 2018 for several serious safety violations before the disappearance.

As part of its investigation, SC OSHA released a timeline of events for Gordon’s disappearance. He is been presumed dead after microscopic pieces of skin, fat and bones found stuck in a shredder’s conveyor belt were connected to his parents’ DNA.

SC OSHA Investigation

SC OSHA’s Timeline of Events
On or about the night of May 4, 2022, Employee #1, was assigned to work with the
shredder machines located on the production lines in Building 1. Employee #1 began working on the shredder machine located on Line 2. This task involved loading the shredder so that it could process material for the rest of the production line. When work on Line 2 ended, Employee #1, the Night Shift Supervisor, and the rest of the employees working on that particular crew, shifted operations from Line 2 to Line 1. On Line 1, Employee #1 was assigned to work with the Vecoplan Shredder Machine.
As work continued and the shift transitioned into the early morning of May 5, 2022, Employee #1 was working with the Night Shift Supervisor to load material into the Vecoplan shredder. A problem occurred with machinery associated with the extruder near the end of Line 1 and the Night Shift Supervisor left Employee #1 to address the issue. who was located behind the shredder machine, last saw Employee #1 around 1:30 a.m. on the platform to the shredder machine, preparing to dump a load of material from the dump box into the shredder hopper.
Around 2:00 a.m., it was determined that Employee #1 could not be located. The Night Shift Supervisor stopped production and the employees went to look for the missing employee. Employee #1 could not be found.
A missing person’s report was filed with the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department. The potential that Employee #1 had fallen into the Vecoplan shredder machine was considered. In response, both the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department and the Spartanburg County Coroner responded to the facility to perform an investigation to determine as to whether Employee #1 had fallen into the Vecoplan Shredder machine. Matter was found at the scene on the conveyor belt that transported material from the shredder to the densifier.
Around June 14, 2022, the Spartanburg County Coroner confirmed that the matter had DNA that matched Employee #1’s parents.
The Coroner’s Office then had additional sampling performed. Around July 6th, 2022, the Coroner’s Office released additional information stating that the matter found at the scene was consistent with human fat, skin, and bone.

SC OSHA worksite analysis

“Regular Inspections – IRRI [Industrial Recovery & Recycling Inc.] did not perform safety-specific inspections. Instead, management worked on the floor with employees every day and addressed issues as they came up, if something was out of place, or if an employee was not doing a task correctly. Day shift had approximately four managers to monitor operators. Night shift had approximately one, not including one of the owners who occasionally stopped by approximately twice a week to check in on operations. Interviews determined that on Night Shift, management was not always around because they went between two different crews and often had to perform non-supervisory work duties alongside employees as a machine operator.

“Employee Complaints – IRRI stated that employees could report any concerns regarding safety and health to their supervisor, the plant manager, or the HR office. A majority of employees felt comfortable bringing up concerns to management; however, a few did not because they felt as though they would get fired if they did/caused trouble.

Hazard prevention and control

“Engineering Controls – Although IRRI had some engineering controls in place, they were not always adequate or applied. For example, CO observed one power transmission apparatus and one conveyor end that were not guarded. CO also observed a stairway that was guarded with stair rails; however, the stair rails did not meet standard requirements. They were shorter in height than required and did not provide full coverage for the length of the stairway.

“Disciplinary System – IRRI had a formal progressive disciplinary policy in place for both administrative and safety-related infractions. Corrective action included, but was not limited to, a verbal caution, a verbal warning, a written warning, suspension, and termination. Infractions were documented on a “Notice of Employee Reprimand” form that included the employee’s name, supervisor’s name, date, details, an employee statement, performance corrective action, and signatures. Interviews determined that safety in the workplace was enforced; however, on certain shifts, such as night shift, employees were allowed to act how they wanted.

“Interviews also indicated that safety-related issues on night shift were not always enforced until after the incident in question happened.

“Administrative Controls – IRRI had administrative controls in place to prevent employee exposure to hazards in the workplace; however, these controls were not always implemented, enforced, or consistently utilized. For example, IRRI had rules that stated employees were not allowed to climb on machines; however, employees bypassed guardrails in order to climb onto the shredders for a particular task (cutting wire on product getting ready to be dumped into the shredder) because they stated there was no other way. This rule was not evenly
applied for certain types of tasks for specific loads that were not commonly run.

“At the time of the inspection, IRRI had signage on the platform located next to the Vecoplan shredder that stated employees were not supposed to lean or climb on the rails. Interviews; however, indicated that the signs were not always posted and that signs were put up after the incident occurred. The investigation also determined that this signage was inadequate for warning employees about permit spaces. IRRI also provided rake-like tools for employees to use; however, interviews determined that these were not always used or effective.

“In addition, IRRI had a forklift seatbelt use policy; however, during the inspection, CO and the plant manager observed an employee operating a forklift without wearing their seatbelt. Interviews determined that there were no specific safety rules for the shredder machine, and even if there were, some employees worked one way on the line while others did it another.

“Interviews also determined that although employees might train one way, they might work regularly another way. Most training was performed by the supervisor. Employees learned how to do their job based on the person who taught them, so if that individual taught them how to do it one way, they would perform the job that same way even if it was unsafe.

“Hazard Recognition – Interviews determined that employees recognized the hazards associated with their job tasks such as, but not limited to, the purpose of safety railing and application of LOTO; however, employees did not always recognize the severity or reality of those hazards because of convenience, how they were trained, and necessitates of the job tasks they performed.

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) – IRRI had a LOTO program in place; however, this program was not utilized for all servicing and maintenance activities. For example, the program was not used for employees setting up and preparing materials inside of the dump box to be dumped into the shredder. Employees were trained on the LOTO procedures that had been developed and completion of this training was documented on a certificate.

Permit Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) – IRRI had a PRCS program in place; however, it had multiple deficiencies. Although signage stated that employees were not supposed to lean or stand on the rails, this signage did not include the identification of a permit space or the hazards within the space. The program was also not implemented for all tasks such as, but not limited to, setting up items in the dump box and clearing foreign material from the shredder. During these tasks, the hazardous energy of the space was not isolated and safe entry conditions were not verified.

“In addition, the program had inadequate rescue procedures. The program itself included a general list of requirements related to this element of the standard, but this information was not site-specific, did not list the actions to be taken for in-house rescue, who performed what responsibility, and what rescue equipment was supposed to be used. This information also contradicted what was listed for rescue on the entry permit as “911,” according to the OSHA report.

The recycling plant was given 10 days to complete the safety recommendations.

“At the time of the inspection, IRRI was in the process of hiring a new safety coordinator who would focus on safety-related concerns as part of their job responsibilities,” according to the OSHA report.