OSHA fines companies after accidents
August 20, 2008
ASPEN ” The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued citations and penalties to two construction companies following a fatal accident at Aspen Middle School and a crane collapse at Base Village in Snowmass Village.
Landowners where the accidents occurred, the school district and Related WestPac, respectively, were not found to be at fault.
OSHA’s main goal is to ensure the companies have comprehensive health and safety programs, said the agency’s area director, Herb Gibson.
On April 20, Juan Ruiz, 29, was killed by a free-standing cinder-block wall that toppled at the middle school. Ruiz, an employee of Denver-based ESA, Inc., was performing asbestos removal on the third floor of the school when the wall fell on him.
After a safety inspection, OSHA issued a $9,800 penalty, a two-part citation of ESA, Inc. classified as serious, and a demand to abate the violation by Sept. 4. OSHA defines serious hazards as those in which there is substantial probability of death or serious harm, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.
OSHA found that ESA did not help its employees recognize and avoid unsafe working conditions. In particular, it did not teach them to safely disassemble cinder block walls during asbestos remediation, the citation says. OSHA also found that ESA did not monitor asbestos removal practices adequately.
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“Employees repeatedly knocked down cinder block walls by striking sledge hammers on the lower rows of cinder block walls. Conditions resulted in a 9-foot-high, 15-foot-long cinder block wall falling on an employee and fatally injuring him,” the report states.
ESA corporate safety director Dave Johnson said that the company had been aware its workers were striking the walls from the bottom and had corrected the behavior. Workers preferred to hit the walls from the bottom because it is easier, he said.
One of the first thing the company did after the accident was to hire more licensed asbestos-removal supervisors, so that one supervisor wasn’t trying to monitor workers on three floors, he said.
However, he noted that part of the problem with following OSHA’s monitoring regulations is a requirement for the vaguely worded “frequent and regular” inspections.
“Basically, if you weren’t there when the accident happened, then you weren’t there often enough,” he said.
After a separate health inspection, OSHA also cited ESA for not adequately determining asbestos-exposure hazards before the project’s start and for not performing air-quality monitoring on a daily basis.
Both of these violations left employees at risk to hazards, including the lung disease asbestosis, the report says. ESA was fined $1,750 and instructed to abate that violation also by Sept. 4.
But Gibson acknowledged that because some abatement had already been done at the project, it was “tricky” to figure out the appropriate amount of monitoring.
Johnson agreed, noting that they were technically in the “discovery” phase of the project when the accident happened ” and they had to figure out which of the four classes of asbestos removal “discovery” fit into.
“My contention is that you don’t really have a class of work for what we’re doing,” he said.
Johnson stressed that the accident devastated the company, and he and the company owner flew out to Aspen that day. Since then, ESA has been taking a close look at what they could have done better, he said.
“In 25 years, we’ve never had anything like that before,” he said.
On June 17, an unnamed ironworker was injured after a large crane at the Viceroy Resort Residences construction site in Snowmass Village toppled over.
The crane struck an iron cross beam, causing the worker, who was on the beam, to fall 6 to 8 feet and hit his head, authorities at the scene said. The worker was wearing a safety harness and was tied off to the beam with a lanyard. He was extricated from the fifth floor and taken to the Aspen Valley Hospital by rescue workers.
On Aug. 6, OSHA issued a three-part serious citation to RMS Cranes, LLC. OSHA found that the employer did not ensure that annual inspections were conducted on all of its cranes. The Manitowoc crane that collapsed had received its last annual inspection on Dec. 7, 2006 ” a year and a half prior to the accident, according to OSHA.
RMS also did not ensure the wire rope boom hoist cable on the crane was taken out of service, even though it had more than three broken wires on one strand in one lay, the citation says.
In addition, the company did not inspect critical items in use on the crane, such as the brakes, crane hooks and ropes, at least once a month, says the citation. OSHA also alleged that RMS did not ensure the boom hoist wire rope on the crane was regularly lubricated.
OSHA fined the company a total of $12,600. It also required that the violations be abated by Aug. 16.
A representative from RMS did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Both companies now have 15 working days to either accept the citations or file a notice of contest, Gibson said. During that time they can also come in to the OSHA office for an informal conference to discuss the citation.
Protests are filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent government body that adjudicates OSHA law, according to Gibson.
Johnson said he expected ESA to go through the informal discussion with OSHA, but at this point he didn’t anticipate a formal appeal.