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Region 1 News Release: BOS 99-022
Tuesday, February 9, 1999
Ted Fitzgerald, (617) 565-2074

Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. Cited for Alleged Willful and Serious Safety Hazards

OSHA PROPOSES OVER ONE-THIRD OF A MILLION DOLLARS IN PENALTIES AGAINST CONTRACTOR FOLLOWING SCAFFOLD FAILURE AND WORKER DEATH AT CUTLER, MAINE, NAVAL AIR STATION

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Labor Department has proposed $383,500 in fines against Abhe & Svoboda, Inc., a specialty painting contractor based in Prior Lake, Minnesota, for alleged Willful and Serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act following the August 23, 1998, death of a worker in a scaffold failure at Cutler Naval Air Station in Cutler, Maine.

According to C. William Freeman III, OSHA area director for Maine, the alleged violations chiefly concern numerous instances of inadequate or non-existent fall protection for the workers as well as several unauthorized modifications to the scaffolds and their controls that left workers exposed to the hazard of scaffold failure. Abhe & Svoboda was under contract to the U.S. Navy to remove lead-based paint and repaint communications towers and associated buildings at the Cutler facility and had 40 employees working on the project at the time of the accident.

At the time of the accident, four workers were attempting to lower two scaffolds, a three-point suspended primary scaffold which surrounded a communications tower and served as the work platform for the painting operations and a two-point suspended scaffold designed to serve as a personnel and equipment lift. This secondary scaffold was attached to the underside of the primary scaffold and was tied off to the tower by ropes.

In an attempt to reduce slack in a cable which connected the two scaffolds, two employees accessed the secondary scaffold to activate its hoist motor. However, the wiring for the motor's control buttons had been reversed during an earlier repair and the controls had not been relabeled to reflect that change. This caused the cable to move up rather than down. In so doing, it pulled upward on large concrete block to which the end of the cable was attached. This action strained and broke the ropes securing the secondary scaffold to the tower, causing the secondary scaffold to fall about 67 feet until the slack in the cable ran out. One worker was thrown from the scaffold and fell to his death; the other worker did not fall out but did sustain serious injuries.

"OSHA's inspection found that the two employees in the secondary scaffold were not wearing required lifelines that would have prevented falls and that several unauthorized modifications had been made to the scaffolds and their controls," said Freeman. "These modifications included lashing the secondary scaffold to the tower instead of following the lowering procedure specified by the scaffold manufacturer, attaching the secondary's scaffold's running lines to fixed heavy concrete blocks, reversing the functions on the secondary scaffold's hoist control button and not labeling the changes, closing off the trapdoor which provided access between the two scaffolds, thus requiring employees to climb up and down the tower to move between the scaffolds, using hoist motors not designed for the scaffold, and defeating the purpose of the primary scaffold's automatic stop blocks by taping them off."

"The employer also failed to train the employees in the correct procedures for moving and operating the scaffolds, did not instruct the workers on scaffold hazards and also did not instruct them on the load carrying capacities for each scaffold nor did the employer have a competent person inspect the scaffolds for defects prior to the start of each work shift," he said. "Had all these protective measures been met -- fall protection provided and used, proper procedures followed, adequate and effective worker training supplied -- this accident could well have been avoided."

Freeman noted that OSHA's inspection also uncovered other fall hazards which, though not directly related to the accident, left the workers exposed to other potentially fatal falls:

"The interior side of the primary scaffold had not been guarded or blocked to prevent employees from falling to the inside of the tower, despite the fact the scaffold's manufacturer had supplied decking precisely for that purpose," he said. "In addition, the tower's fixed ladders lacked ladder-safety devices or other effective means of stopping employees' falls in the event they slipped or lost hold while climbing one of these ladders."

Other conditions cited by OSHA at the jobsite included deficiencies with the work platform, electrical cables and a crane cable.

Freeman noted that the considerable size of the fines proposed in this case reflects the fact that five of the citations have been classified as willful, the most severe category of OSHA citation, issued only when OSHA believes, based on its inspection, that the employer knew what safeguards were required to protect workers yet apparently chose to disregard them. In this case, OSHA is seeking the maximum penalty allowed under the law -- $70,000 -- for each of the five alleged willful violations.

Specifically, the citations and $383,500 in proposed penalties encompass the following:

  • Five alleged Willful violations, accounting for $350,000 in proposed penalties, for:
    -- scaffolds were not constructed by a qualified person or used in accordance with their design in that the employer made several unauthorized modifications to the scaffolds and their controls, including: tieing off the secondary scaffold to the tower, attaching the secondary scaffold's running lines to fixed objects on the ground, reversing the control buttons on the secondary scaffold's hoist control and not labeling that change, closing off the trap door which provided safe access between the primary and secondary scaffolds, taping the secondary scaffold's stop blocks, and using hoist motors not designed for the scaffold;
    -- employees working on the secondary scaffold were not protected against falls by means of a personal fall arrest system;
    -- employees working on the primary scaffold were exposed to fall hazards due to a lack of barriers or guards for the interior side of the work platform;
    -- there was no ladder or other safe means for employees to move between the primary and secondary scaffolds;
    -- the fixed tower ladders were not equipped with ladder climbing devices, thus exposing employees to falls.
    [A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations]

  • Seven alleged Serious violations, with $33,500 in penalties proposed, for:
    -- employees working on the towers were not trained in the load carrying capacities and maximum intended loads for each scaffold, nor were they trained in the nature of scaffold hazards or the correct procedures for operating and moving the scaffolds;
    -- a competent person did not inspect each scaffold prior to the start of each work shift;
    -- the walking and working surface of the primary scaffold was deteriorated and its strength had not been evaluated;
    -- the walking and working surface on the primary scaffold was not kept clear of debris and materials;
    -- power cord and power cable not protected against damage;
    -- damaged cable on a crane;
    [A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard]

Freeman urged Maine employers and employees with questions regarding workplace safety and health standards to contact the OSHA offices in Bangor or Augusta and added that OSHA's toll-free, nationwide hotline --1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742)-- may be used to report workplace accidents or fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, especially if they occur outside of normal business hours.

OSHA is empowered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue standards and rules requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces and jobsites, and to assure through workplace inspections that those standards are followed. The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


The information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request.

Voice phone: (617) 565-2072. TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) Message Referral Phone: 800-347-8029.


Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


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