LAGRANGE, Ga. (AP) -- Representatives of a car parts manufacturing company say they've remedied several issues and have increased training after receiving the most federal safety violations in Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that Sewon America, which manufactures components for Kia, has been inspected nine times and received 18 citations since 2009 from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Among other things, federal officials have accused the company of failing to provide workers with adequate hand and eye protection, and exposed employees to crush hazards.
The plant's general manager Ken Horton says employees had to overcome a learning curve, and officials say most of the citations were issued in 2009 and 2010.
Former employee Kimberly Scandrick recalled an incident in December 2010 when sparks from a robotic welding machine lit her clothes on fire.
"Everybody started screaming. The girl next to me said that my clothes were on fire, and I just took off running," she said. A manager eventually tackled Scandrick and put the fire out. She spent two weeks at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
"It felt like my body was just throbbing. It was ongoing, constant pain," she said. "They gave me morphine. It really didn't do anything." Scandrick has had skin graft surgeries and faces an additional $150,000 in operations.
Jerome Walls Jr. spent two years re-welding parts on the night shift and said he was never given protective headgear to guard against seeing harmful rays. Sewon officials say he was given a voucher to buy protective gear. The newspaper reported that Walls wears sunglasses indoors and an ophthalmologist told him he's lost 55 percent of his vision.
"I have National Safety Council manuals from the 1950s on my desk that say protect workers from arc flashes," said Jim Howe, an industrial safety expert. "This is a well-known hazard."
Labor officials found that two violations linked to welding flash burns and subpar protective gear were willfully committed by the company with indifference or disregard for workers' safety and health.
Sewon representatives say they've addressed issues associated with welding.
"The company is allowing us to invest whatever it takes to keep safe our employees," Horton said. "It's just the right thing to do and the numbers speak for themselves in terms of reduction" of workplace accidents.
The newspaper reported that ambulances have been sent to the plant 23 times for trauma calls since it opened four years ago. The company disputes those numbers, and officials say ambulances were only sent to the facility 10 times for trauma calls.