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State to probe Kentucky candle factory where workers say they were threatened with firing

"Everyone is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety and of being decent human beings," Kentucky's governor said.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that state investigators will probe the Mayfield candle factory where eight people died in a catastrophic tornado and workers said they were threatened with termination if they left their shifts early.

Beshear told reporters at a news conference that the inquiry “shouldn’t suggest 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.

A time frame for the review by the state Occupational Safety and Health Program wasn’t immediately clear. Beshear said such an investigation doesn't happen "one day or a couple of days after" an incident.

"Everyone is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety and of being decent human beings," he said. "I hope everybody lived up to those standards."

Five workers at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory said in interviews that managers told employees that they would probably lose their jobs if they went home.

In an interview from her hospital bed, McKayla Emery, 21, said workers first asked to leave around 5:30, after tornado sirens blared outside the plant.

"If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” Emery recalled overhearing managers tell four workers standing near her. “I heard that with my own ears.”

Another employee, Haley Condor, said 15 people asked to leave early. In response, managers took roll to determine who had left, said Elijah Johnson, who also works at the factory.

"I asked to leave, and they told me I’d be fired,” Johnson said.

“Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” he said he asked.

“Yes,” a manager responded, Johnson said.

A company spokesman, Bob Ferguson, said Tuesday that the state inquiry is "entirely appropriate."

"In such a catastrophic situation our regulators need to review these things," Ferguson said, adding that an official of the state agency arrived at the site Tuesday and was escorted around the property.

Ferguson denied Monday that any workers were threatened, calling the allegations "completely untrue."

“We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began," he said. "Employees can leave any time they want to leave, and they can come back the next day.”

Ferguson also denied that managers told employees that leaving their shifts meant risking their jobs. Managers and team leaders undergo a series of emergency drills that follow guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he said.

Beshear said Tuesday that 74 people had been confirmed dead across the state and that 100 more remain unaccounted for. Twelve of those who were killed were children, one of whom was 2 months old.