OSHA fines Journal Star $35,802

Employees were complaining for years about safety issues in the press and mail rooms at the Peoria Journal Star, yet their concerns went largely unheeded. Until six months ago. In an instant, the work zone looked like a war zone.

One employee said that judging from the amount of blood, he was sure someone was dead.

GateHouse Media, a Wall Street hedge fund, has owned the newspaper since 2007. Under GateHouse ownership, the newsroom has shrunk. The building went from being meticulously maintained to looking virtually abandoned and derelict. Operating conditions inside the building are stressful.

Several people verified empty vodka bottles were routinely seen tossed under bushes outside the rear pressroom door.

Since the accident on Dec. 21 last year, empty liquor bottles still get tossed under the bushes, but there are fewer of them, one person said.

Dec. 21 was busy, right in the midst of holiday advertising. According to the police report, a fork life operated by Walter Kelly hit and pinned Larry Helle against a machine. Other workers rushed to Helle’s aid and one used his belt to make a tourniquet to stem the blood loss.

Helle, 60, was transported to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center where he immediately went into surgery. Attempts to save his leg failed and the leg ultimately had to be amputated.

After weeks at OSF followed by weeks at Kindred Care Extended Stay Hospital, Helle was released to a nursing home. A family member said he has suffered a series of seizures and possible strokes.

He is being represented by Goldfine and Bowles in a workman’s compensation case against GateHouse.

“My client is a heck of a nice guy and has had a pretty rough road since the Friday before Christmas,” said his attorney with Goldfine and Bowles.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the case for several months, closing its investigation on May 21 and issuing a total of $35,802 in fines for three violations the agency labeled as serious.

The Journal Star newsroom was ordered not to report on the accident. A call to GateHouse Media seeking comment was not returned.

According to the original police report, the driver of the forklift fled the scene. An officer at the information desk, said no supplemental police reports have been filed in the case.

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