Tag Archives: Safety Violation

Texas Trench Collapse Results in $400k OSHA Fine and 16 Safety Violations

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

On July 22, 2015, Hassell Construction Co. was cited by OSHA for 16 safety violations (including 6 egregious willful violations) and given a whopping $423,900 fine. Hassell Construction Co. is a construction company based in Richmond, Texas with about 150 employees that construct water and sewer lines around Houston, Texas. The employer was given 15 business days to comply with each citation, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the OSHA Health Review Commission.

These citations were given after a trench that was 8 feet below the ground collapsed in February crushing an unsuspecting employee. Luckily, the worker was dug out by his co-workers using their bare hands. The minute the worker was freed from the trench, the trench collapsed a second time.

According to OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas, John Hermanson, “Hassell Construction knew its trenches weren’t safe, but still put its workers in harm’s way.” Due to the fact that trench cave-ins such as the one in February are completely preventable OSHA has also placed the construction company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program which often inspects employers and mandates follow-up inspections to ensure that they are complying with the law. In North Carolina, a similar incident allowed the employee to sue the employer directly and overcome the exclusivity provision of the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. Woodson v. Rowland. 373 S.E.2d 674 (1988).

Read about the citations here: https://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/HassellConstruction_1031127_0722_15.pdf

Original Article 7/22/15 posted on WorkersCompensation.com.

Klickitat County Lumber Company Fined

William Arthur Cooper: Lumber Industry, 1934

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

     The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries announced that a Klickitat County lumber company was fined nearly a quarter of a million dollars after worker gets caught in machinery.

     The SDS Lumber Company of Bingen, Wash., has been fined $244,600 for 69 workplace safety and health violations after a worker was seriously injured in March. The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for one willful, 54 serious and 14 general violations of safety and health rules. A willful violation is cited when L&I alleges that the violation was committed with intentional disregard, plain indifference, or when employers substitute their own judgment for safety and health regulations.

     L&I determined that a lack of training and proper safety procedures left the lumber mill worker with severe injuries when his arms became entangled in machinery while trying to clear a jam. L&I began an investigation on March 9m 2013 after being notified that the worker had been hospitalized. By law, all employers are required to report to L&I within eight hours anytime a worker is hospitalized or dies due to work-related causes.

     “This incident shows the importance of Washington’s hospitalization reporting rule,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “In most other states, a hospitalization involving only one worker does not have to be reported and the serious hazards could continue unabated. In our state, we are able to send inspectors right away to ensure the safety of the other workers.”

     The investigation found that managers and supervisors were aware that workers routinely bypassed machinery safety guards to try and clear jams while the machinery was still in motion.

     Consequently, the company was cited the maximum penalty allowed by law, $70,000, for a willful violation. Additionally, because the willful violation was associated with a worker’s serious injuries, the company will now be part of the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, an OSHA program that monitors severe safety violators.

     The injury incident prompted comprehensive safety and health inspections of the entire plant. In addition to the machinery violations, the department found serious hazards related to chemicals, hazardous and flammable substances, bloodborne pathogens, confined work spaces, electrical and fall protection. Many of the violations were corrected during the inspections. 

     The company has appealed the citations. 

 

Photo credit: americanartmuseum / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Safety Violations Matter: Wisconsin Court Reaffirms Basis for Employer Safety Penalties

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

In most instances, an injured worker cannot sue her employer for a workplace injury. However, if an injury results from an employer’s reckless, intentional, or illegal action, an injured worker can bring a separate claim against the employer directly. An employer’s violation of the Wisconsin state safety statute  or of any Department of Workforce Development (DWD) safety administrative rule which causes a worker’s injury can trigger a 15% increased penalty for the employer (Section 102.57 of the Worker’s Compensation Act). This increased compensation is based on the amount of compenstion paid by the insurance carrier and is capped at $15,000. The big deal is that the safety violation penalty is not paid by the insurance company–it is paid directly from the employer’s pocket (which also makes for increased litigation of these claims!).;

In a win for injured workers, a recent Court of Appeals case (Sohn Manufacturing v. LIRC), decided on August 7, 2013, reaffirmed the ability of the Worker’s Compensation Department to hold employers responsible for unsafe behavior. In the Sohn case, the worker operated a die cutter machine, and the employer instructed her to clean it while the anvil rollers were running. The worker suffered a severe hand injury when her hand was pulled into the machine. A state investigator found an OSHA violation as well as a violation of the state safety statute (Section 101.11). An administrative law judge and the Labor and Industry Review Commission affirmed an award of a safety violation under 102.57 of the worker’s compensation act.

The employer challenged this ruling in court, arguing that the federal OSHA law preempted Wisconsin’s ability to enforce safety procedures under Section 102.57 and that an OSHA investigation cannot form the basis for a state safety violation claim injured workers should be thankful that the Court of Appeals rejected both of these arguments. First, the Court explicitly stated that OSHA does not preempt Wisconsin’s ability to award penalties under Section 102.57, as the safety violation statute is not an enforcement mechanism and OSHA was not intended to impact state worker’s compensation rules. More importantly, the Court indicated that an OSHA violation of a federal workplace safety regulation can be used as basis to demonstrate an employer’s violation of Wisconsin’s state safety statute (Section 101.11).

While the decision was not surprising, it reaffirms the state’s commitment to holding employer’s accountable for safety violation rules under the worker’s compensation system. Workers and practitioners also should remain aware of any OSHA violation found post-injury. A document demonstrating a federal OSHA violation can form the immediate basis for a safety violation under Section 102.57.