Paltry Fines and Repeat Offenders: The Story of OSHA’s Life

by Chaz Bolte

Man-on-ScaffoldFollowing a disastrous explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant earlier this year, national attention shifted briefly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), its underfunding, and the way in which it is handcuffed when overseeing workplace safety. As Think Progress noted this fall (when the investigation into the West tragedy was halted by the government shutdown), “The actual plant is facing $118,300 in federal fines for two dozen serious safety violations, including the lack of an emergency response plan, despite costing more than a dozen lives and $100 million in property damage.”The 24-hour news cycle, even among labor’s most loyal, has found new daily drama to latch on to leaving OSHA to return to its sad version of what workers — and many businesses — would consider oversight. Even a quick search of recent injury- and fatality-related fines shows how dire the situation remains and how little impact the current system of regulation and punishment has on workplace safety. Three examples are below.College Station, TX

OSHA is investigating the death of 25-year old Angel Garcia, a construction worker who died last week after a four-story fall while performing work on Texas A&M’s $450 million upgrade of Kyle Field.   He passed away shortly after at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Bryan, TX.  Mr. Garcia was employed by subcontractor Lindamood Demolition.

The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that both the prime contractor, Manhattan Construction Group, and Garcia’s employer, subcontractor Lindamood Construction, had been cited by OSHA in the past for safety violations:

Lindamood Demolition was cited on July 16 for failure in its preparatory operations. The company is required to conduct a safety inspection prior to starting demolition work, as well as post a record of the inspection, according to OSHA regulations.

The company was ordered to pay a penalty of $4,200, but the records show that an informal settlement for $2,000 was filed on or around July 22. OSHA marked the case closed on Aug. 7.

Records show that the citation was issued during a planned partial inspection by OSHA during a demolition project at the Wichita General Hospital in Wichita.

Manhattan Construction Co., half of the Manhattan-Vaughn Construction team that is leading the $450 million project at Kyle Field, was cited twice while working on the Dallas Cowboys Stadium project in June 2009.

One citation was for failure to enforce personnel to wear the appropriate protective equipment; the other was for failing to protect employees from falling through open areas, such as skylights. Manhattan also filed an informal settlement at $4,000 total.

The incident is being investigated by the Texas A&M System, Manhattan-Vaughan Construction, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Texas A&M University Police Department.

The construction project had a live feed camera to capture the progress of the project which have since been taken down.  It is unclear if the cameras caught the incident as it happened.

It is the second major construction accident to happen on the Texas A&M campus this year.  The previous incident also happened at a sports facility, the new equestrian center along George Bush Drive:

Five workers were injured on June 22 after part of the steel frame collapsed at the Texas A&M Equine Complex. OSHA investigators were on scene to investigate Gamma Construction Company, another Houston-based firm, after that incident. A report on the equine complex collapse has not been released.

After the incident Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said in a statement:

“The thoughts and prayers of all of us at the A&M System and within the Bryan and College Station community are with the Garcia family.”

Long Island, NY

A Painting and Stucco contractor in Ronkonkoma, NY has been fined a total $460,350 for safety violations stemming from an OSHA worksite investigation that took place in March. It is Painting and Decorating Inc.’s sixth fine since 2008. It is the largest fine so far for the company which has been a repeat offender. OSHA has proposed a $429,660 fine for 10 repeat citations and it is proposing $30,690 for five “serious citations.”

Via Long Island Newsday: “The new allegations include improperly inspected scaffolding; hazards such as missing cross braces and planks on scaffolding; a lack of fall protection for workers and a lack of protective helmets; and no protection against falling objects.”

Painting and Decorating Inc. has now been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The latest wave of fines comes as the contractor has yet to pay off its previous fines. OSHA has referred the case to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Libertyville, IL

OSHA has cited Aldridge Electric, Inc for failing to implement an adequate and effective stress program after one of its workers died this summer on the first day of the CTA Red Line Project.  The worker, 36-year old Ronald Guyton, had a heat stroke on his first day of the job.  OSHA has proposed fines of $7,000:

He was carrying heavy electrical conduit in an uncovered, non shaded trench when he collapsed, OSHA said in a release Monday.

Ronald Guyton had complained of dizziness at the worksite at 15 W. 87th St. before he became unresponsive about 3 p.m. on June 25, authorities said at the time.

Guyton, of the 1100 block of North Farnsworth Avenue in Aurora, was taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, where he was pronounced dead at 7:42 p.m., the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said.

OSHA’s citation noted that workers must be trained to endure the physical hardships of working in the summer heat.  As noted by  Dr. David Michaels, OSHA assistant secretary:

“This tragedy underscores the need for employers to ensure that new workers become acclimated and build a tolerance to working in excessive heat with a program of water, rest and shade.  A worker’s first day on the job shouldn’t be the last day of their life.”

Chaz Bolte is a native of Pittsburgh, PA where he attended Slippery Rock University. He currently contributes to WePartyPatriots, Addicting Info, Secret Party Room, and Football Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @ChazBolte This post first appeared on We Party Patriots.

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