News Release

Federal inspectors found sawmill exposed employee to same unguarded saw that claimed the life of 21-year-old worker weeks earlier

Missouri Mats, owner Don Gibson defied January OSHA directive to guard saw

BRASHEAR, MO Not yet a month on the job, a 21-year-old working at a sawmill operation site in Brashear was learning how to operate a Hurdle saw on Jan. 11, 2023, when he suffered fatal injuries after getting caught and pulled into the vertical edger blades as they spun.

His employer, Don Gibson, owner of Missouri Mats, failed to notify the U.S. Department of Labor’s  Occupational Safety and Health Administration that the fatality occurred, which delayed OSHA’s investigation of the incident until Jan. 18, 2023. When investigators arrived at the work site, they issued Gibson a letter that required the company to protect employees from amputation hazards at the sawmill. The letter also directed Gibson to report to OSHA that the mill had corrected the hazard.

When OSHA inspectors returned on March 1, 2023, to continue their investigation, they discovered that Gibson failed to implement necessary controls and procedures for the sawmill and that his employees continued to operate the saw in the same condition which resulted in the death of his employee. The agency placed an imminent danger notice on the saw, which finally prompted Gibson to correct the sawmill’s safety failure.

Inspectors also learned the company knew that sawmill operators let the vertical edger continue to spin while inspecting the machine, which is large enough to cut full logs, but did not correct the procedure or re-train workers on how to use the machine safely.

OSHA cited the company for two willful, 53 serious and two other than-serious safety and health violations and proposed $346,954 in penalties. OSHA also placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

While at Missouri Mats, the agency’s investigators observed workers younger than 18 years old employed at the sawmill and operating heavy-powered industrial trucks and alerted the department’s Wage and Hour Division. Federal law prohibits minors from working in hazardous occupations.

“After a young man — new to the job — died after suffering horrific injuries, Don Gibson and the Missouri Mats’ management team continued to use the equipment involved in the fatality without taking appropriate steps to eliminate the danger and protect employees,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Billie Kizer in Kansas City, Missouri. “Deadly hazards exist in the sawmill and logging industries, and it is essential that Gibson and others in the industry follow federal safety requirements.”

Specifically, inspectors identified the following failures and hazards at the sawmill:

  • Saw blades, pulleys, belts, woodworking machines and grinding wheels without machine guards.
  • Inadequate lockout/tagout procedures to isolate energy during service and maintenance. The company also failed to establish and follow proper procedures for controlling hazardous energy.
  • Exposing employees walking and working on surfaces and near unguarded holes to fall hazards.
  • Failing to provide required guardrails.
  • Insufficient training and evaluation of operators of powered industrial vehicles.
  • Failing to maintain portable fire extinguishers and not having a worker training program on their use.
  • Exposing workers to the risk of electrical hazards.
  • Allowing improper use of ladders.
  • Lacking a hearing conservation program.
  • Failing to provide personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head and feet.
  • Not labelling chemicals as required.
  • Improperly storing cylinders and equipment.
  • Failing to provide required safety information and training to employees.

These incidents are not the first time Gibson’s failures to comply with federal workplace safety laws have put workers in jeopardy. In 2012, OSHA investigated a fatality at a logging site operated by Don Gibson, as well as a sawmill owned by Gibson in Arbela, Missouri.

Missouri Mats buys and cuts walnut, oak, maple, cottonwood and other tree species, and sells lumber products for use by various industries.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Learn more about OSHA, lockout/tagout procedures and machine guarding.

Learn more about federal law regarding the employment of minors in sawmills.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration
July 13, 2023
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Media Contact: Scott Allen
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Media Contact: Rhonda Burke
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