Injured Ann Arbor Recycling Plant Worker Speaks Out

On February 28 of this year — just two weeks after beginning a job at an Ann Arbor recycling plant — 47-year-old maintenance technician Earl Roberts’ arm was crushed under a 500-pound gear box. Earl was seriously injured; the incident severed several tendons and muscles in his left forearm. Over the past five months, Earl has seen five doctors, and he’s still on medication to manage the pain. The doctors tell him he will have problems with his left arm for the rest of his life.

recycled paper

Roberts claims that ReCommunity–the North Carolina-based company under contract with Ann Arbor to operate the plant–created an unsafe work environment. What’s more, the plant manager ignored Earl’s prior expression of safety concerns. Last month, Ann Arbor terminated its contract with ReCommunity, due to repeated safety violations. ReCommunity retaliated by suing the city for unlawful breach of contract.

Roberts, a resident of Yale, Michigan, is also considering filing suit. He is seeking reparations for his injuries, which he alleges have rendered him unable to work. ReCommunity’s insurance company has been uncooperative, and Earl has a pending disputed workers’ compensation claim. He has hired an attorney to ascertain his options.

Earl was hired to be a maintenance boss at the plant. Immediately after beginning his position, he noticed that workers smoked in the plant. He considered this a fire hazard and believed it suggested a lack of work ethic.

Just hours before the heavy equipment crashed on his arm, Earl allegedly told the plant manager:  “Look, dude, somebody’s going to get hurt, and it’s not going to be me.”

ReCommunity’s attorney has refused to comment, aside from the vague statement that “in general, the safety of employees is very important to ReCommunity.” The attorney also claimed that ReCommunity has in place “significant training and safety resources,” including “injury prevention resources.”

The company’s president Sean Duffy indicated that he was aware of Earl’s February 28 injury, but he did not know that Earl had raised staffing concerns or that Earl had a disputed workers’ compensation claim. Duffy wondered whether the incident was due to not having enough workers at the plant on the day in question. He admitted that his company had problems keeping stable employees, due to operational problems at the plant. He said the company relied on a temp agency for workers.

Earl confirmed that the plant was understaffed, which made its undertakings very rushed. He explained that he was working with an unqualified mechanic on the day of the incident. Allegedly, another worker was seriously injured during a forklift incident last year.

Duffy blames Ann Arbor for the plant’s operational difficulties. For example, ReCommunity tried for the past two years to persuade Ann Arbor to buy a new baler. (Recycling balers are used to compact recyclables, such as aluminum, cardboard, paper, and plastic.) He explained that the plant’s baler was the primary cause of the issues because it was perpetually breaking down.

In a statement, ReCommunity insisted that it “complied with all safety requirements in the contract” as well as “the requirements for preparing and maintaining applicable safety and accident reports.”

Earl’s attorney indicates that his client’s injuries are still being investigated. Earl’s petition with the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency indicates that he has disputed claims for both medical benefits and lost wages. Neither a hearing nor mediation date has yet been set.

Construction accident lawyer Kelly Neumann at the Neumann Law Group represents victims of accidents throughout Michigan from offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Call us at (231) 463-0122 or at (616) 717-5666 for a free consultation.

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