4 suppliers cited after fatal accident at Boeing plant

EVERETT — The state Department of Labor and Industries has cited four Boeing suppliers for workplace safety violations discovered during the department’s investigation into a fatal accident at the airplane maker’s Paine Field plant in 2014.

The citation penalties range from $200 to $11,000. Boeing itself was not fined.

Jamco America received the biggest penalty — $11,000. L&I cited it for three violations. Two are classified by the department as serious and one was called general in nature. The serious ones were a lack of procedures to protect employees while working on airbags installed in first-class and business-class airplane seats.

In November, a Jamco mechanic, Ken Otto, was working on a faulty airbag in a 777 on the flight line at Boeing when the airbag went off, violently hitting his face.

The 50-year-old was flown by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died Dec. 7.

Jamco America, which is owned by a Japanese interiors firm, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

A worker with Vartan Product Support was treated on site, taken to a local hospital and released, according to Boeing.

Vartan Product Support, which is part of the German interiors firm Vartan Aviation Group, was also cited by L&I for not properly warning the worker of the potential danger. The company corrected the issue during L&I’s inspection, the agency said. While the violation is considered serious by L&I, the penalty was $200.

Vartan declined to comment about the citation.

Otto and the other contractor were working on an airbag system made by AmSafe, a Phoenix, Arizona-based manufacturer of the devices. The company has the only seatbelt airbags certified for commercial airplanes, according to AmSafe’s website.

Airbags are installed in thousands of airplane seats to meet federal safety requirements that passengers be able to withstand an impact equal to 16 times the force of gravity. Airbags are needed on “difficult-to-certify seat placements,” such as unconventional seats in first or business classes and bulkhead-row seats, according to the company’s website.

Two other companies were also cited, B/E Aerospace and Zodiac Seats U.S. Zodiac was formerly known as Weber Aircraft. Zodiac Seats U.S. is a subsidiary of Zodiac Aerospace, which is based in France.

They were not involved in the November accident but they do similar work, and L&I routinely inspects such companies following an accident, said Tim Church, a spokesman for the department.

Zodiac Seats U.S. was fined $1,200 for not having adequate safety procedures. Its employees had worked on the seat before the accident, according to the citation from L&I.

B/E Aerospace was fined $700 for inadequate safety procedures.

Airplane seats are made by a handful of aerospace suppliers. Boeing’s customers buy the seats from the suppliers. Boeing mechanics install the seats, but contractors often deal with problems identified before the airplane is delivered.

The citations have been delivered to the companies, which have until mid-April to appeal, Church said.

The dollar amounts of the penalties are calculated based on the employer’s size, “employer cooperation, a good faith effort to comply, and the employer’s safety history,” among other factors, he said.

Money collected from penalties is used to pay for benefits for injured workers and to the families of workers who have died on the job, Church said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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