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Published: Thursday, 10/18/2007

Firm facing $150,000 fine over fatal fall

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Federal officials yesterday proposed fines totaling $150,000 against the contractor building the Veterans Glass City Skyway for safety violations they blame for a carpenter s fatal fall six months ago.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Fru-Con Construction Corp. of Ballwin, Mo., for two willful violations the agency s worst classification and two serious violations in connection with the April 19 death of Andrew Burris, 36, who fell 82 feet to the ground when a work platform he occupied broke loose from the bridge.

The willful citations accuse Fru-Con of failing to have a competent person inspect the work platform, also described as a scaffold, each time it was moved and re-erected and for failing to ensure that employees climbing onto the platform used fall protection.

The serious citations contend the firm failed to build the scaffold in accordance with its manufacturer s design and failed to properly train the employees responsible for erecting, dismantling, and moving the equipment.

Injuries, illnesses, and fatali-ties can be prevented if employers follow federal safety and health guidelines, Jule Hovi, OSHA s area director in Toledo, said in a statement yesterday announcing the proposed citations and penalties.

When employers ignore these standards and regulations, working men and women are needlessly put at risk. In this case, a man paid with his life.

David Dysard, the Ohio Department of Transportation s deputy director for its Bowling Green district office, which is overseeing the nearly completed, $237 million bridge project, issued a statement concerning OSHA s proposed action: ODOT has and will continue to work with all of our contractors and OSHA to ensure safety. We strive for accident-free projects.

Mr. Dysard could not be reached yesterday for further comment.

As a result of other site inspections, OSHA cited Fru-Con 13 times before the April 19 incident, including four associated with the Feb. 16, 2004, crane collapse at the I-280 project that killed four ironworkers.

OSHA initially classified the crane-collapse citations as willful but reduced them to unclassified after appeal negotiations with Fru-Con.

In exchange for that redesignation, the construction company agreed to pay the maximum $280,000 fine for those citations.

Fru-Con also paid at least $11.25 million in wrongful-death claims and other expenses to relatives of three of the four ironworkers killed in the crane collapse, and a criminal investigation of that accident continues.

Through a public relations firm, Fru-Con yesterday issued a statement indicating that it plans to appeal OSHA s latest findings too. Fru-Con fully cooperated with OSHA during its investigation of this tragic event, the statement read. We respectfully disagree with the agency s findings and intend to challenge these citations.

The $70,000 fines proposed yesterday for each of the two willful violations also represent the maximum allowable by law. A $5,000 fine is proposed for each of the two violations rated as serious.

Ron Rothenbuhler, executive regional director of the Ohio Vicinity Regional Council of Carpenters, said that he had just received a copy of the OSHA report on the accident and would not comment on it before studying it and meeting today with safety administration officials.

As to the proposed fine, Mr. Rothenbuhler said, If it s the maximum fine, that s good. There is no price on a man s life a father and husband.

Mr. Burris, a member of Carpenters Local 1138, had climbed onto the work platform attached to the bridge s outside wall in order to place forms for pouring concrete when the platform detached and plunged to the ground.

Co-workers said Mr. Burris was wearing a safety harness at the time, but for that particular job there was nothing other than the platform itself to which it could have been secured and securing himself to the platform would not have saved his life.

Mr. Burris death left behind his wife, Shonna, and a toddler daughter, Breanna, along with his parents and sisters.

Relatives could not be reached for comment about the OSHA findings and proposed penalties against Fru-Con.

Contact David Patch at:dpatch@theblade.comor 419-724-6094.



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