Mativ Inc Paper Mill
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WHITING – The employee who died at a Whiting paper mill earlier this month was a “beloved son, father and brother” who “had a knack for making everyone feel welcomed and loved,” according to his obituary.
“While his time on Earth was cut short, his impact and memory will continue to live on,” his obituary states.
Joshua Vyse, 40, died “unexpectedly in a work-related accident” on May 14, according to his obituary.
Multiple agencies responded to the accident that Sunday afternoon at the mill owned by Mativ Inc., located at 3243 Whiting Road, less than 5 miles south of Stevens Point.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of one of our team members at our Whiting facility,” Jason Free, Mativ’s executive vice president of operations said on May 22 in a statement to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “We express our sincere condolences to our employee’s family and all others affected by this loss.”
In light of what happened, Mativ suspended operations at the Whiting facility for one week, Free said, “to allow our employees to deal with the loss before returning to work.”
“Prioritizing the safety of our employees — physical safety as well as psychological safety and emotional wellbeing – is our number one goal,” Free said.
Mativ and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration continue to investigate.
Vyse had ‘generous spirit’ and ‘strong work ethic’
According to his obituary, Vyse grew up in the Columbus, Wisconsin. A report from the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, which USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin obtained through a public records request, lists his residence in Amherst Junction, a village about 16 miles east of the Whiting mill.
“Josh’s strong work ethic was admirable, as he dedicated himself tirelessly to his job,” his obituary says. “He was known for his diligence and commitment, often going above and beyond by taking on additional hours and overtime. His strong work ethic was a testament to his character and his desire to provide for his loved ones.”
The obituary says that “Josh’s sudden departure has left a void in the lives of those he touched,” but “the memory of his generous spirit, his patience, and his willingness to help those around him will remain as a testament to the remarkable person he was.”
Vyse is survived by his mother, children, siblings and nephews, according to the obituary.
Law enforcement determines death was accidental; two investigations continue
OSHA opened a case stemming from Vyse’s death on May 15. The agency has six months to complete an inspection and issue citations and propose monetary penalties if violations are found, an OSHA spokesperson said.
“OSHA does not comment on the specifics of inspections until they are complete,” according to the spokesperson.
Mativ is also “actively investigating the cause of the incident,” and the company is “fully cooperating with all authorities,” Free said.
The Portage County Sheriff’s Office, on May 22, told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin it’d concluded its investigation.
“At this time Josh’s death is not considered suspicious and deemed an accidental work place death,” according to the sheriff’s office report.
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Portage County Sheriff’s Office report describes emergency response to mill
Law enforcement responded to the mill shortly after 12:45 p.m. on May 14. Witnesses said they did not see everything that happened, but there was a jam and Vyse’s arm got stuck in a paper machine, according to the report. Fellow employees stopped the equipment and were able to free their injured coworker, the report states.
A medical helicopter was called to the mill, and emergency responders attempted to provide life saving measures, according to the sheriff’s office.
Multiple agencies responded to the scene, including the Plover Fire Department, Plover EMR, Portage County Ambulance, Aspirus MedEvac, Portage County Chaplain Services and Portage County Medical Examiner.
According to the report, one witness at the mill said “there have been some safety issues recently that were being addressed with staff.”
When asked about this statement, as well as other, unrelated OSHA cases at Mativ’s Wisconsin facilities, Free said, “We take all safety concerns very seriously and work diligently to create the safest work environment for our employees.”
“We work closely with authorities,” Free said, “to continuously improve our safety practices and ensure that we have the right protections in place.”
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OSHA previously conducted inspections at Mativ’s Wisconsin facilities
Online OSHA records show that in addition to the fatality case this month, OSHA opened another inspection at the Whiting mill on March 30. Details are not available, though, since the case remains open.
In the last five years, there were also two closed cases at the Wisconsin mills which Mativ now owns. No citations were issued from a 2022 safety inspection at its Neenah facility.
Meanwhile, a 2021 inspection at the Whiting mill resulted in three violations and a $16,384 penalty for issues around energy control procedures and guarding to protect employees in work areas.
Prior to incident this month at Mativ’s facility, the most recent employee fatality at a Wisconsin paper mill was in August at Ahlstrom’s Thilmany Plant in Kaukauna. OSHA’s investigation determined that 29-year-old Aaron M. Hobart was fatally injured by a “catastrophic failure in two pipe sections” and a power boiler “explosion.” OSHA did not issue any citations or penalties to Ahlstrom in the case.
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Mativ’s presence in Wisconsin stems from Neenah Inc.
Last year, Neenah Inc., merged with Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc., to form Mativ Holdings Inc., which is based in Georgia.
The company has two Wisconsin mills, in Neenah and Whiting, as well as a converting center in Neenah.
The two mills are focused on the company’s packaging and specialty papers business unit. Employees at the facilities produce customized, high-end packaging solutions, premium labels and fine papers.
The Whiting facility employees more than 200 people, according to a company spokesperson.
Last year, the spokesperson said that Mativ plans to sell the Appleton plant, located 430 E. South Island St., that Neenah Inc., closed in 2021.
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Reach Becky Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-993-7117. Follow her on Twitter at@ruthyjacobs.