May 17, 2018
By Phoebe Wall Howard, Nathan Bomey, Justin A. Hinkley and Eric Lacy
The automotive parts factory where an explosion has resulted in the temporary halt in production of the Ford F-150 pickup has a history of recent safety violations, public records show.
The violations included separate incidents in which employees suffered burns at Meridian Magnesium Products of America in Eaton Rapids, MI, according to Michigan safety documents.
Of the safety citations at the plant over the past decade, all occurred after the plant was acquired in December 2013 by Chinese automotive firm Wanfeng Auto Holding Group.
The non-unionized plant’s safety record is coming under scrutiny after two people were injured and more than 100 employees were evacuated when a fire and multiple explosions rocked the small mid-Michigan community May 2.
The plant has been cited for seven safety violations—three of them serious—since early 2014, according to public records. Inspections conducted at the company in 2011 and 2012 resulted in no citations, according to Michigan safety records. Those inspections took place before Wanfeng bought the plant.
In recent years, the plant has been found in violation of Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards relating to worker safety around electrical equipment, die-casting machines and industrial trucks. The company was fined a total of $6,700 for those violations, records show.
Last week’s explosion closed the plant. It stopped the flow of parts to Ford, which, in turn, had to indefinitely suspend all production of the F-150.
At the same time, production at the Meridian parts plant could be offline for weeks. The plant makes support parts for the pickup’s radiators.
Ford has warned the shutdown will have “an adverse impact on the company’s near-term” profit. The incident also forced Meridian’s other corporate customers, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, to adjust production schedules.
Benjamin Wu, chief legal officer and public affairs director for Magnesium Products of America, said the company has one of the better safety records in the die-casting industry.
Meridian also operates a factory in Ontario, Canada. “We always try to prevent accidents. In the manufacturing environment, accidents happen,” Wu said Friday.
Eaton Rapids Meridian plant manager George Asher said last week that the company followed protocols during the May 2 incident. “Safety is our primary concern,” he said in a statement.
Meridian also had a small fire at the plant about a year ago, but it was contained to one of its molding or casting machines, Abhay (Abe) Vadhavkar, director of manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, told the Detroit Free Press last week.
Asked about that incident, Wu said: “You’re injecting molten metal into (a) die. You’re going to have minor incidents.”
Phoebe Wall Howard is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press; Nathan Bomey is a reporter for USA TODAY; Justin A. Hinkley and Eric Lacy are reporters for the Lansing State Journal.
Original headline: Ford F-150 parts supplier's safety record scrutinized; Chinese firm acquired plant in December 2013
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