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Rice Hospital fined $50,000 for workplace fatality

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital will pay a $50,000 fine for two safety violations that contributed to the death last November of a medical records worker.

The agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry was announced Tuesday during a news conference at the hospital.

Susan Leukam, 51, was asphyxiated when a motorized shelving system acci-dentally activated, trapping her between shelves in the hospital's medical re-cords storage area. She died three days later, on Nov. 26.

"In the end, someone lost their life because this system failed," said Lorry Massa, chief executive of the city-owned hospital.

The $50,000 penalty -- $25,000 for each citation -- is the minimum fine levied by OSHA.

The hospital was cited for failing to have safety devices in operation to pre-vent the motorized shelving from activating while an employee was in the aisle between shelves.

It also was cited for failing to have toggle switch protection on a battery pack that was in use when the fatal accident took place.

A third citation, issued by OSHA in February, was dropped after negotiations between the agency and hospital officials.

Massa said the settlement, which was signed May 19, will allow the hospital to move forward.

"That doesn't change the outcome but it allows us to put at least that piece of the process behind us," he said.

James Honerman, a spokesman for Minnesota OSHA, said the investigation is formally complete.

"Our main goal is to ensure this doesn't happen again," he said.

Honerman said he's not aware of any other similar work-related fatalities or injuries involved motorized shelving systems such as the one at Rice Hospital.

Massa and Dale Hustedt, the hospital's associate administrator for facility and human resources, said several measures have been taken to increase the safety of employees who work in the medical records storage area.