Worker Death at Ford Field Results in $556,000 in Fines

May 19, 2003
An investigation by the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services' (CIS) Bureau of Safety and Regulation (BSR) found that both Thomarios Painting and Brockman Equipment failed to protect workers painting the trusses at Ford Field, new home of the Detroit Lions. The BSR is responsible for administering the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA).

CIS Director David C. Hollister announced the conclusion of the nine-month investigation of the fatal work accident at Ford Field. The state has issued MIOSHA citations and penalties against Brockman Equipment Inc. for $286,000, and against Thomarios Painting for $270,000.

Thomarios Painting was a subcontractor on the Ford Field stadium construction site. Brockman Equipment Inc. rented two aerial lifts to Thomarios, including a Condor 150S aerial work platform with an articulating and extensible boom. On July 30, 2002, Thomarios painter Gjon Gojcaj was in the Condor and was painting trusses more than 120 feet above the surface on the east side of the stadium.

At about 10:15 a.m., the outrigger of the Condor lifted off the ground for the second time and the lift fell to the east, landing in the lower concrete seating area and fatally injuring Gojcaj.

"Ford Field is a shining gem for the Detroit Lions and for the city of Detroit. It saddens us deeply that its construction legacy includes the death of worker Gjon Gojcaj," said Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm. "This needless tragedy could have been avoided if either company had fulfilled their safety and health responsibilities."

While Gojcaj was painting the trusses on the morning of July 30th, a Thomarios foreman and a Hunt/Jenkins (general contractor) concrete superintendent were discussing the use of mats under the Condor's outriggers. During their conversation, both men observed one of the Condor's rear outriggers raise approximately 10 inches off the surface. This presented an imminent danger for the painter on the Condor work platform. Based on the MIOSHA General Duty clause, at this point the foreman should have stopped all operations and attempted an immediate rescue of the worker.

Instead, the foreman told Gojcaj to finish what he was doing, and then come down slowly and get ready for the next move. As Gojcaj moved the Condor, the entire machine fell over. The concrete superintendent recognized that the outrigger movement didn't look right, and was in the process of contacting Hunt/Jenkins management when the Condor fell.

A total of nine willful violations are alleged against the two companies, five against Thomarios Painting and four against Brockman Equipment. The state alleges both companies were aware of the hazardous conditions involved in painting the trusses and willfully placed workers in harm's way "with a pattern of indifference for their safety."

Thomarios was cited for a Willful violation of the General Duty clause for failure to protect Gojcaj from a hazardous condition and a willful citation for failure to have operators perform a pre-operation inspection. Brockman received a willful citation for failure to inspect and maintain the aerial lift platform. Both companies received three willful citations for inadequate training, no manuals provided and missing warning decals/stickers.

"It became apparent from our MIOSHA investigation that each of these two companies abrogated their own safety and health responsibilities and relied on the other company to protect the workers," said Hollister. "These citations today send a clear message that in a situation involving multiple companies, every company will be held accountable for the willful disregard of worker safety and health."

Because of the complexity and expense of the aerial lift, Brockman Equipment supplied an operator with the rental of the Condor. The operator was responsible for driving the truck chassis, making mechanical repairs and training all the painters who would be working from and operating the platform. The MIOSHA investigation revealed that workers received almost no training on the operation of the Condor and especially on possible hazards and warning signs.

Operator training is critical for the safe operation of equipment with such inherent hazards. Neither company fulfilled their obligation to assure operators were adequately trained. The lack of a manual and warning decals/stickers were equally important because both contained crucial warnings of hazards that could cause serious injury and even death, and yet were not available to the workers.

A willful violation is defined as one committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the MIOSHA Act and regulations. Based on provisions in the MIOSHA Act, Public Act 154, as amended, every willful violation, which is connected to a fatality, is referred to the Michigan Attorney General's Office for criminal investigation and/or prosecution.

Thomarios received a total of 14 citations and Brockman received a total of 10 citations for alleged safety violations. The companies have 15 working days from receipt of the citations to comply or contest the violations and penalties.

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