Criminal prosecutions related to OSHA violations are usually rare. However, when a worker dies because an employer failed to secure his safety, OSHA may pursue both civil and criminal charges.
A former Deland, Fla., subcontractor was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for contributing to a worker's death in Orange Park two years ago.
John B. Coffman, conducting business as Southeast Industrial Painting, is the second of two contractors sentenced in the case which grew out of an investigation conducted by OSHA.
Defendant Randall Keith Ginzig, president of Jacksonville-based Eagle Tank Technology & Renovation Corp. was sentenced Dec. 29, 1999, to three years probation, four months of which will be served under house arrest.
He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and to pay funeral expenses for the deceased employee.
OSHA pursued criminal action against both companies because the employers contributed to the worker's death by willfully ignoring safety standards.
Coffman and Eagle Tank pled guilty to a misdemeanor for willful disregard of OSHA's confined space requirements and for allowing a worker to enter the tank without proper training and safety equipment.
In addition, Ginzig pled guilty to a felony for falsifying records submitted to OSHA in an attempt to cover up the cause of the worker's death.
According to Cindy Coe, OSHA's acting regional administrator in Atlanta, Eagle Tank contracted with the Clay County Utility Authority to refurbish and renovate steel water treatment facility tanks at the Orange Park site.
The contractor hired Coffman's firm to assist in the renovation work.
Coe explained, "A Southeast Industrial Painting employee was preparing to enter the single access port hole of a tank to paint the interior when an explosion propelled him about 15 feet into a building wall."
Both companies were given monetary fines in civil agreements prior to the criminal proceedings.
This case brings the total of five defendants in three separate cases where federal criminal charges have been filed since the beginning of 1997 in the Jacksonville area.
"Anytime we believe an employer has willfully violated safety standards and those violations caused or contributed to the death of a worker, OSHA will vigorously pursue criminal charges," said James Boarders, OSHA's Jacksonville area director.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Florida ranks third in the nation and is the South's leader in number of fatal construction worker accidents.
To address the alarming increase in construction fatalities in Florida, OSHA recently launched a special program -- Construction Accident Reduction Emphasis (CARE).
Since March 1999, OSHA's CARE project has resulted in increased outreach to the public, workers and employers and has produced alliances with other organizations to increase the number of training seminars available.
The agency has also stepped up its construction industry enforcement activity in an effort to reduce construction fatalities by 15 percent nationally, and 40 percent in Florida over the next three years.