Fatal Accident Leads to $52,500 in OSHA Fines for Butte Construction Company

The failure of Jim Gilman Excavating Inc., a Butte, Mont. construction company, to protect employees on a construction site from the hazards of working around heavy equipment has resulted in $52,500 in proposed OSHA penalties.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Billings area office issued one willful, and one serious violation following an investigation that began on Sept. 16. An employee was crushed to death beneath the wheels of a road grader at a road construction site near Butte.

Gilman Excavating was cited for one willful violation for allowing employees to ride on the ripper attachment and the cab access steps while the machine was in motion. A $49,000 fine is proposed for this violation.

OSHA also found one serious violation for failure to instruct employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and assessed penalties of $3,500 for that violation.

"In this case, the employer was well aware of the hazards associated with the practice of allowing employees to ride the ripper and the step while the grader was moving," said David DiTommaso, OSHA area director in Billings.

OSHA investigators found that employees commonly walk beside the grader to uncover "blue tops" or grade markers, buried by gravel displaced during the grading process. Those employees must then get to the beginning of the next strip, sometimes a distance of several hundred yards, to repeat the process.

"Riding on the road grader at any position, other than the operator's station, is illegal and dangerous," added DiTommaso. "This tragic accident and the unsafe conditions discovered during the inspection could have been avoided by adherence to recognized safe work practices and OSHA regulations."

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

Gilman is contesting the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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