OSHA: Faulty Brakes Factor in Worker's Death

Failing to keep construction equipment in proper working order, contributing to the death of a highway construction worker, could cost two Mississippi companies nearly $55,000 in proposed penalties, according to citations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Blain Companies, general contractor on a highway improvement project near the Bude/Meadville bypass, was fined $51,100 and subcontractor MAGCO Inc., the deceased worker's employer, was fined $3,675.

On April 10, while engaged in widening and repaving Highway 84/98, a MAGCO employee hitched a ride on the side of a one-seat broom sweeper operated by a Blain employee. They rode eastward on a lane just cleared of asphalt while, traveling westward, a Blain employee was driving a backhoe known to have defective brakes.

When the broom-sweep driver saw the on-coming backhoe he pulled onto the highway median and stopped. The backhoe operator, as he had done frequently since the defective equipment was put into service, tried to stop the equipment by putting the transmission into reverse and lowering the bucket to the ground. However, this time the machine lost power and the operator was unable to control the steering. The backhoe veered and hit the broom sweeper, causing the rider to fall off and under the backhoe.

"Company officials knew this backhoe had no braking system. They ignored their own safety procedures and OSHA regulations because they were in a hurry to make up lost time," said Clyde Payne, OSHA's Jackson area director.

The agency issued one willful citation with a proposed penalty of $49,000 to Mt. Olive-based Blain Companies for failing to have a proper braking system on the backhoe, and three serious citations with proposed penalties of $2,100 for failing to equip the machine with a seatbelt, horn and reverse signal alarm.

Laurel-based MAGCO was cited for two serious violations with proposed penalties totaling $3,675 for permitting unauthorized employees to ride equipment and permitting employees to work in highway zones without reflective vests.

Each company has 15 working days to contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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