Michigan Company, Foreman Enter Pleas in Worker's Death

The J.A. Morrin Concrete Construction Co., Toledo, Ohio, and company foreman, Jim Morrin Jr., have pled guilty to criminal charges in the Aug. 11, 2000, death of contractor employee Robert Sorge.

"On the day Robert Sorge was killed, James Morrin Jr. callously directed a series of truck drivers into an area of extreme danger," said Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services (CIS) Deputy Director Kalmin Smith. "The pleas entered by Morrin and the company acknowledge their criminal responsibility for this tragic accident."

In Monroe County Circuit Court, Morrin Concrete entered nolo contendere ("no contest") pleas to charges of involuntary manslaughter and that it committed a willful criminal act under the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA). Jim Morrin entered a guilty plea to a charge of committing a willful criminal act under MIOSHA.

J.A. Morrin Concrete Construction contracted Sylvester Material Co., Sylvania, Ohio, to deliver gravel to a strip mall construction site in Dundee, Mich. A 7,600 volt energized power line ran across the entire east end of the site. Morrin Concrete received notification and several warnings that no work was to be conducted under the power line until it was deenergized and moved.

On Aug. 11, 2000, Jim Morrin directed several gravel hauler tandem-rigs into the east end of the site to deliver crushed gravel. Robert Sorge, a 24-year-old driver, was directed by Morrin into the area under the power line. Sorge dropped the first load, then pulled forward and unhitched the empty box.

Morrin directed him back under the overhead line, and instructed him to raise the truck bed. Sorge was electrocuted when the truck bed contacted the energized wire. Sorge was severely burned and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The MIOSHA investigation revealed that Morrin Concrete continued to place workers in unsafe and hazardous conditions. Contact with energized electrical equipment is a leading cause of construction worker deaths in Michigan, and is an inspection focus for the MIOSHA Construction Safety Division.

On April 23, 2001, two citations for alleged willful serious violations of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA) were issued to Morrin Concrete, with penalties totaling $140,000. The subcontractor, Sylvester Material Co., received two citations of the MIOSHA Act, one alleged willful serious and one alleged serious, with penalties totaling $56,000.

Based on provisions in the MIOSHA Act, every willful violation that is connected to a fatality is referred to the Michigan Attorney General's Office for criminal investigation or prosecution. MIOSHA pursued the criminal action through the attorney general's office because the employer contributed to the worker's death by willfully ignoring safety standards.

"We hope the memory of the needless death of Robert Sorge will help prevent future workplace tragedies," said Smith. "This criminal resolution should be a warning for all employers to carefully examine their workplace, and make sure they are providing a safe and healthy environment to their employees."

The pleas carry a maximum criminal penalty of $27,500 combined. Morrin faces up to one year in jail for the MIOSHA felony.

As part of the plea agreement, the company agreed to:

  • Provide notification to MIOSHA not less than 10 calendar days (but under no circumstances less than two hours) prior to commencement of any construction work activity within the state of Michigan for a period of three years.
  • Establish and implement an ongoing safety and health program, will provide documentation of training received by employees, and will maintain records of training and refresher training.
  • Pay a civil penalty to MIOSHA of $50,000.
  • Establish and implement a structured form to serve as a check-list for inspecting all future worksites prior to the commencement of work activity.
  • Conduct a hazard assessment of each future work operation to identify specific hazards for a period of five years.
  • Conduct safety and health awareness training for all its employees at quarterly intervals for a period of five years.
  • Donate $5,000 to the Safety Council of Northwest Ohio in memory of Robert Sorge, which is to be used for training purposes focusing on the hazards of home building. A plaque will be placed with the Safety Council of Northwest Ohio memorializing the donation, and will state that Robert Sorge lost his life through no fault of his own.
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