Coroner says crane accident kills International Paper employee

An International Paper wood yard employee was killed Monday morning when he was struck by a timber loading crane, Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten said in a press release this morning.

Bill Drake, 66, was struck by the metal cage of the crane while attempting to clear wood debris along train tracks, according to the release.

Mr. Drake fell forward for an unknown reason toward the tracks. The crane has both audio and visual warning devices, which were working at the time of the accident. He was pronounced dead at the scene around 7:45 a.m.

He was an employee of the paper mill for 43 years, said Jessica Savage, communications manager of the company.

“It’s a huge loss,” Ms. Savage said. “We’re very shocked and saddened by this event.”

Local, state and federal agencies are currently on the scene at the plant located at 4278 Mike Padgett Highway.

The accident is also under investigation by the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration, an arm of the U.S. Labor Department that focuses on workplace safety and related issues.

OSHA spokesman Mike Wald of the agency’s Region 4 office in Atlanta said the company reported the accident to federal authorities early today, as the law requires.

“By law, companies must report to OSHA whenever there is a fatality or an incident in which three or more workers are hospitalized.”

Although Mr. Wald did not yet have any additional details on the accident, he said an officer from the agency’s Compliance, Safety & Health section will be sent to International Paper to begin investigating the incident.

“They’ll be looking to determine whether the company has violated any OSHA standards,” he said.

Such investigations must be completed within six months. “They can finish it sooner, but they have up to six months,” he said. Such inquiries become public only upon completion.

According to a searchable online OSHA database, the International Paper plant on Mike Padgett Highway has a good safety record with no reported serious accidents during the last five years.

Since 2004, the plant was inspected twice in response to complaints, the records show. One inspection in 2005 yielded fines totaling $4,250 – including a $500 fine for a minor violation and a $5,000 fine for a “serious” violation involving “guarding floor and wall openings” that was later settled for $3,750.

A 2008 inspection yielded no fines or violations.

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