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Recycling company fixes safety problems

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A state safety board says the recycling company contracted by Albuquerque has corrected violations discovered at its plant after the death of an employee in April.

Tate Hofstetter, 28, was working the graveyard shift on April 18 when his arm was caught in a conveyor belt he was adjusting, according to a report by the New Mexico Occupational Safety and Health Bureau.

Pieces of his clothing were caught, and he was strangled before paramedics arrived.

Tate Hofstetter

He was taken off life support at University of New Mexico Hospital on April 22.

The Occupational Safety and Health Bureau found in a subsequent investigation three serious violations at Friedman Recycling’s Albuquerque plant – which processes and markets the city’s recyclable materials – resulting in more than $18,000 in fines.

Only one of those, the absence of a protective guard on the conveyor belt Hofstetter was working on, was directly related to the incident.

It appears Hofstetter removed the guard to adjust the belt, according to witnesses, who told officials it was a common practice at the plant.

“Friedman Recycling of Albuquerque employees were exposed to the hazard of being caught in a moving conveyor belt while adjusting tension on belt #24,” reads a settlement reached last month between the state’s Environment Department and Friedman Recycling.

The business was also cited for its debris-laden floors and a damaged forklift still in regular use.

Friedman Recycling of Albuquerque did not respond to requests for comment.

The settlement reduced Friedman’s total fines to $11,520. The conveyor belt guard violation fine of $9,000 was not reduced.

Friedman Recycling has paid the fines and corrected the three violations, bureau spokeswoman Katy Diffendorfer said. It has also “taken steps to protect employees from this hazard through training, engineering practices, and work practices and procedures,” according to the settlement.

“Friedman’s will also be subject to possible follow-up inspection to verify ongoing compliance,” Robert Genoway, chief of the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, wrote in an email earlier this month.

The settlement agreement was completed Thursday.

But Hofstetter’s family isn’t convinced conditions at the plant are any safer than they were in April.

“I really don’t think safety is their No. 1 priority,” said Nathan Hofstetter, Tate’s father, from his home near Stockton, Calif.

He said he has hired a lawyer and is contemplating legal action.

Tate Hofstetter moved to Albuquerque from California four years ago to train in mixed martial arts, Nathan Hofstetter said.

“We’re grieving real bad out here,” Nathan Hofstetter said. “I don’t want anyone else who goes in there to come out in a body bag.”