Death of Mechanic Prompts Fine, Willful Citation for School Bus Service

OSHA has proposed a total of $95,000 in fines and has issued a willful citation against First Student Inc., a Cincinnati-based school bus service, following a fatality and an injury at two of its Boston facilities.

The fatality occurred March 9 at the company's Freeport Street bus yard when Hector Rivas, a mechanic, was overcome by carbon monoxide produced by a gasoline-powered "start-all generator" used to jump-start buses, according to OSHA and First Student.

On April 18, a mechanic at the firm's Hyde Park garage was injured when a 10-ton air jack used to lift buses toppled onto him while he cleared a jammed safety chain.

According to OSHA, the agency's inspection found that workers at the Freeport Street location were exposed to high carbon monoxide levels when the start-all generator was in use. The company failed to identify and evaluate this carbon monoxide hazard and did not install adequate ventilation or other controls to reduce carbon monoxide levels, the agency contends.

OSHA also alleges that employees were not trained about carbon monoxide hazards and protective measures.

At the Hyde Park garage, OSHA says it found that the air jack had been modified with the addition of the safety chains, which jammed, preventing the jack from moving. This exposed workers to the hazard of being struck or crushed by the jack, according to the agency.

OSHA also alleges that:

  • The jack had not been adequately de-energized to protect employees attempting to clear a jam;
  • Specific energy-control procedures had not been developed and implemented for employees servicing buses and air jacks;
  • Employees had not been adequately trained in those procedures; and
  • Annual inspections that could have identified these defects had not been conducted.

OSHA cited First Student for one alleged willful violation and eight alleged serious violations of workplace safety and health standards.

"These accidents show, in the starkest terms, what can happen when all safety and health standards are not met," said Brenda Gordon, OSHA's area director for Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts. "It's vital that all necessary safeguards be in place and in use at all company locations to prevent deaths and accidents."

First Student Will Appeal

William Scarpelli, an attorney for First Student, said First Student is appealing the OSHA citations.

"We're looking forward to presenting what we believe are important and pertinent facts that will show that First Student could not have anticipated the environment that Mr. Rivas was in," Scarpelli said. "And equally we are looking forward to discovering the facts upon which OSHA based its citation, which have not been made known to us."

Scarpelli said the company has "fully remedied the apparent cause" of Rivas' death by removing gasoline-powered start-all generators from its service trucks. Rivas was found in the cab of a service truck with the start-all generator running and the rear door of the truck shut, which "would have been against standard operating procedures," Scarpelli said.

"That was a situation not anticipated by First Student and it had never happened before," Scarpelli said.

According to First Student's Web site, the company has a fleet of more than 22,000 school buses and 22,000 drivers. The site also says the company "is responsible for safely transporting nearly 2 million students to and from school every day."

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