Ski Resort Receives a Mountain of OSHA Fines

OSHA cited Vail Resorts Inc. in Keystone, Colo., for failure to protect employees working in confined spaces in connection with a fatal accident that occurred in November.

OSHA's area office in Denver concluded its investigation of the Nov. 25, 2002 accident, in which employee Benjamin Bornstein, 28, was engulfed by water in a snowmaking pit's below-ground vault. The company was cited for two alleged willful and one alleged serious violation, with a total penalty of $128,250.

"Safety standards for confined spaces are designed to prevent a tragedy such as this, but they must be carefully followed to be effective," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "Employees must be aware of the hazardous conditions. They and potential rescuers must be trained to deal with them."

According to Adam Finkel, OSHA's regional director, the first alleged willful violation involved failure to post required warning signs on confined spaces and to develop and utilize a written "permit space program" for confined spaces, as well as a lack of confined space training for employees.

The second alleged willful violation was for the employer's failure to inform an outside rescue service of the hazards associated with confined spaces at their workplace and failure to provide the rescue service with access to the confined spaces so they could plan and practice appropriate rescue operations.

The alleged serious violation is associated with Vail Resorts' failure to provide an egress ladder for entry into confined spaces.

A serious violation is one where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, involving a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. A willful violation is one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to decide to comply, to request an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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