OSHA Cites Texas Tunnel Contractor for Serious, Repeat Violations Related to Worker Death in New York

Horror movies try to convince us that bad things happen when the lights go out. In the case of an employee driving a locomotive for Fort Worth, Tex., tunneling company Southland Contracting Inc., it’s true. He was killed on April 11 when a fuse blew and the lights in the tunnel under Lake Ontario where he was working went out, causing him to strike a conveyor on the tunnel-boring machine.

Thomas Means of Walwork, N.Y., who was transporting rubble out of the tunnel at the time of the incident, sustained fatal head injuries and died before he could be transported to the hospital.

"An unfortunate and unnecessary confluence of conditions placed the workers in the tunnel at risk of being struck, crushed or caught in and between the locomotive and the tunnel boring machine," said Arthur Dube, OSHA's area director for western New York. "An inspection by a person with the knowledge to identify and the authority to eliminate these hazards could have prevented this worker's death."

OSHA cited Southland Contracting for six serious and one repeat violation of workplace safety standards related to the incident, proposing $55,440 in fines. OSHA investigators found that the locomotive allegedly lacked bumper blocks to stop it as it approached the conveyor, it was pushing an unattached flat car and it had not been inspected for modifications and repairs. Furthermore, there allegedly was no effective means by which the workers in the tunnel could notify the locomotive operator of problems while he was in transit. OSHA also found the welding equipment was plugged into branch circuits meant only for temporary lighting and the agency said the site had not been inspected by a competent person prior to the work beginning.

These conditions resulted in citations for six serious violations. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

One repeat violation was cited for failing to instruct workers in the recognition and avoidance of "struck-by," "caught-in" and crushing hazards associated with tunnel boring and locomotive equipment. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last 5 years. A similar hazard was cited at this company's Batesville, Ark., worksite in 2010.

"An important means of preventing hazards such as these is for an employer to develop, implement and effectively maintain an illness and injury prevention program in which management and workers proactively and continually identify and eliminate hazardous conditions before they harm workers," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional director in New York.

Southland Contracting has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with Dube or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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