The first 18 months of President Donald Trump's first term saw the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levy some massive fines for safety violations. The two largest were $1.5 million levied against Great White Construction in Jacksonville for repeatedly violating fall protection standards, and nearly $1.5 million for Boston-area based Atlantic Drain Services Co. after one of its employees was killed when a trench collapsed during a sewer utility project.
While OSHA fines issued to construction companies from May through September this year did not rise to the level of those levied against Atlantic and Great White, the agency still hit contractors with substantial monetary penalties, underscoring that jobsite safety is a never-ending concern for federal and state watchdogs.
1. Lanford Brothers Co., Marion, Virginia — $304,130
In August, OSHA proposed that Lanford Brothers Co. pay what looks like the largest fine yet for violations under the relatively new silica dust exposure standard. The five citations included two serious violations for improper eye or face protection and not providing proper silica dust training for workers.
The agency also cited Lanford for three willful-serious violations, representing the bulk of the fine amount, for not using the appropriate wet methods and respiratory protection; not assessing potential employee exposure to silica dust; and not providing sufficient respiratory equipment and medical evaluations. Lanford has contested the citations and fines.
OSHA delayed enforcement of the standard in order to give companies extra time to comply, but the agency is not hesitating to cite and fine contractors they believe have violated silica dust exposure rules.
2. JK Excavation & Utilities, Mason, Ohio — $202,201
In December of 2017, a JK Excavation & Utilities employee died in a 16-foot-trench collapse. OSHA issued five serious, one willful, one repeat and two other citations to JK after determining that employees were working in trenches without proper cave-in protection; not enough attention was paid to removing accumulating water; workers did not use entry and egress ladders properly; the company did not keep employees from working under a suspended trench box and that it did not ensure that employees wore protective headwear. The agency also found that JK did not have an adequate plan to give workers access to timely medical treatment.
OSHA proposed total fines of $202,201, which were negotiated down to $151,650 as part of an informal settlement with JK. According to an agency press release, OSHA also added JK to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which means that JK will be subject to increased monitoring and more inspections.
3. Jose Barrientos, Derby, Kansas — $191,071
OSHA proposed fines for roofing contractor Jose Barrientos after inspectors found employees exposed to fall and other hazards on a Kansas residential jobsite. The agency issued the company citations for six serious, two willful and one other violation for the failure to provide sufficient fall, eye and face protection; not training employees about fall hazards, ladder usage and hazardous materials; and failing to keep work areas clear of debris.
OSHA said Barrientos has been cited for hazards five times in the past 10 years. The most recent status report indicates that the entire fine amount has been referred for debt collection.
4. El Paso Underground Construction, El Paso, Texas — $190,642
El Paso Underground Construction is contesting the two serious and two willful violation citations OSHA issued the company in August, along with the $190,642 in proposed penalties.
OSHA inspected one of El Paso's jobsites after seeing the pipe-laying company's employees working in an unprotected trench. The agency determined that in addition to not training its employees on safe work practices, El Paso Underground had not provided its workers with safe entry and egress to trenches and had not protected employees from cave-ins. OSHA issued two serious and two willful violations against the company.
El Paso Underground was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The agency said it cited the firm for trench related-violations four times in 2017 as well.
5. Brutus Construction, Pottstown, Pennsylvania — $166,658
There are few details about the conditions that led to OSHA issuing one serious and three willful safety violations to roofing contractor Brutus Construction, but the agency's records indicate that the focus of the inspection and subsequent action was on falls. According to the agency, Brutus' case is still pending abatement and payment of penalties.
One of OSHA's areas of emphasis is on falls, which the agency says is the leading cause of construction-site deaths.
6. Douglas N. Higgins Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan — $162,596
OSHA cited utility contractor Douglas N. Higgins Inc. with one serious, two willful, one repeat and one other-than-serious violation after an employee was crushed when a steel plate fell on him as he installed sewer lines on a project in Naples, Florida. Higgins has contested those violations, as well as the accompanying proposed $162,596 in fines.
The violations include allowing employees to work in a trench without sufficient cave-in protection; failing to provide safe entry and egress from a trench; not performing adequate atmospheric testing; failure to provide training for employees on the signals to be used when moving trench boxes; and permitting workers to use faulty equipment to hoist a compactor.
OSHA cited Higgins in July 2017 after three workers died from a January 2017 exposure to lethal gases while working on a project in Key Largo, Florida. The agency fined Higgins and a related company, McKenna Contracting LLC, a total of $119,507.