2:52 PM PST, December 15, 2021
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday the state will investigate the Mayfield candle factory where eight people were killed by a deadly tornado, and where some workers said they were threatened with being fired if they left their shifts.
“Everyone is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety and of being decent human beings,” Beshear said. “I hope everybody lived up to those standards.”
The governor said the reviews are done whenever workers are killed on the job.
“So it shouldn’t suggest that there was any wrongdoing. But what it should give people confidence in, is that we’ll get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.
The factory was operating around the clock to fill holiday orders for scented candles, company officials have said. There were 110 employees on the overnight shift beginning Friday. Eight have been confirmed dead thus far as searchers continue to comb the rubble of what used to be a large manufacturing site.
Five employees interviewed by NBC News say company managers told staff to continue working as the massive weather front bore down and threatened those who wanted to leave with being fired.
Elijah Johnson, 20, was working in the back when several workers went to speak with supervisors, he said. He joined them, he said.
“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” Johnson told the network. “Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” he said he asked. “Yes,” a manager responded, Johnson told NBC News.
Company officials deny the allegations.
“We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began,” said company spokesman Bob Ferguson. “Employees can leave any time they want to leave, and they can come back the next day,” the network reported.
“In such a catastrophic situation our regulators need to review these things,” Ferguson said, adding that a state official arrived at the site Tuesday and was escorted around the property.
The governor said investigators from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance have begun a months-long review of deaths that occurred at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory as the storm rampaged the southwest corner of the state.
Employees have said they were buried in debris after the building collapsed. Many were pinned by rubble and couldn’t move, they said. Others were able to dig themselves free as rescuers scrambled to rescue the trapped workers.
“We’re heartbroken about this, and our immediate efforts are to assist those affected by this terrible disaster,” CEO Troy Propes, the son of company founder Mary Propes, said in a statement. “Our company is family-owned and our employees, some who have worked with us for many years, are cherished.”