The general contractor cited for workplace violations on the new I-280 bridge - the site of four worker deaths in February - is apparently trying to work out a settlement with a federal attorney before the case reaches a courtroom.
It also appears that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is receptive.
"OSHA doesn't exist to punish people. OSHA exists to make the workplace safe," said Brad Mitchell, an OSHA spokesman in its regional office in Chicago. "By settling these things, we're really advancing safety and health."
Fru-Con Construction Corp., of Ballwin, Mo., the general contractor for the Maumee River bridge project, faces fines of more than $300,000 stemming from two OSHA inspections. One of the cases involved four serious violations which the agency believes most likely contributed to the deaths of four workers Feb. 16 when one of two truss cranes used to erect the bridge's sections crashed to the ground.
OSHA cited the company for failing to follow the manufacturer's instructions because crews allegedly failed to properly secure both the rear and front legs of two 900-ton cranes. Calling the violations "willful" and "egregious," OSHA suggested $280,000 in fines.
Four other men were seriously injured that day, and the accident indefinitely stalled what had been a much-lauded signature piece that is expected to reshape Toledo's skyline.
In a second case, OSHA cited Fru-Con for five "serious" violations for safety hazards that exposed workers to possible injury and even death during a March 19 inspection at the site. OSHA proposed $22,625 in fines after it accused the company of not taking adequate measures to protect employees working on scaffolding from falling or to protect those on the ground from being struck by falling objects.
Fru-Con appealed both sets of violations to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, where cases are assigned to an administrative law judge.
In court papers, Fru-Con has denied the violations stemming from the March inspection, but it also states that "the misconduct of one or more employees was responsible for any alleged violation(s) of any and all standard(s) which the Secretary [of Labor] is able to prove."
It's one of a handful of defenses that "are not uncommon" in cases that have been appealed to the Review Commission, said Linda Gravely, a spokesman for the commission.
A hearing, originally scheduled for Dec. 1 for the March inspection violations, has been postponed to Dec. 24 while both sides discuss combining the cases and settling them, Judge Stephen Simko noted in the file.
"Another continuance may be needed if discussions fall apart," he wrote.
Fru-Con has not yet filed a response to the violations stemming from the Feb. 16 fatality.
Locally, Dick Tracy, the assistant area director of the Toledo office who oversaw the Fru-Con investigations, declined comment about the specifics of the cases or speculate on the chances that they are settled out of court.
But he echoed Mr. Mitchell's words.
Settlement talks mean OSHA can order more than its minimum workplace standards as part of a final agreement, Mr. Tracy noted.
"Our goal is to do what is better for the safety and health of the workers," he said. "It's not about what's best for the agency or the employer. It's about what's best for the workers."
Joe Blaze, business manager for Ironworkers Local 55 to which the deceased men belonged, did not return calls seeking comment. Fru-Con, through its public relations firm and through an attorney, also declined comment.
In the meantime, Toledo police and the Lucas County prosecutor's office continue their criminal probe into the matter.
Prosecutor Julia Bates said the inquiry also now may take into account the failing of the surviving truss crane last month. Idled following the deadly failure of its twin in February, the crane underwent several modifications to make it safer and was to be placed back into operation Oct. 23.
But just hours after crews began using it, a telescoping leg fell off. It injured no one, but the Ohio Department of Transportation ordered Fru-Con to use different equipment. The crane now is being dismantled. Fru-Con since has blamed the mishap on faulty wiring. It's unclear whether the latest mishap affects the criminal probe.
"It's unclear as we sit here today how that impacts our investigation," Mrs. Bates said.
Contact Robin Erb at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.