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Contractor Cited after Earlier Death

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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A tank maintenance firm whose subcontractor lost a painter earlier this month in a fatal fall was fined in a similar fatality in 2009, federal regulators say.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued citations Feb. 10, 2010, against Atlanta-based Utility Service Group, formerly known as Utility Services Co. Inc., for one willful, two serious and three other-than-serious violations after an employee of a painting subcontractor fell to his death the previous summer from atop a water tower in Epping, NH, according to OSHA.

The willful violation related to fall protection; the serious violations, to fall protection and ladder hazards; the other violations, to record-keeping.

OSHA proposed total fines of $93,000 against Utility Services, which was the general contractor on the project.

Although OSHA records still show that case as open, it was settled on Jan. 12, 2011, with the willful violation reclassified as serious after the company contested, an OSHA spokesman said Friday (Aug. 16).

The company paid a $30,000 fine in late 2010, the spokesman said.

Winfred Davis Memorial Park Iowa
Lemke Funeral Homes; First Presbyterian Church of Mount Vernon

Since Winfred Davis died in the fall from atop a water tower, members of the community have left tokens of their condolences in Memorial Park, where the tower is located.

In that case, OSHA also cited the painting contractor, Bullins Painting of Eden, NC, with three willful, five serious and one other-than-serious violation and proposed fines totalling $146,100.

That case has been settled with the same number and category of violations, but the fine has been reduced to $87,000, the OSHA spokesman said. The case has not been closed because the fines are still being paid, OSHA said.

Similar Citations

The 2009 case bears similarities to that of Winfred Davis, a painter who fell to his death Aug. 1 from atop a water tower in Mount Vernon, IA.

Davis, 29, worked for Arndt Enterprises of DeWitt, IA. Mount Vernon Police identified Arndt as a subcontractor for Utility Services, of Perry, GA. (Utility Service Group lists the Perry, GA, location as its Southern Region Office on its website.)

Iowa OSHA has opened an inspection into the death of Davis, a father of two children.

Utility Service Group
Utility Service Group

Founded in 1963 as a tank painting contractor, Atlanta-based Utility Service Group now bills itself as the largest tank service firm in the United States.

Efforts to reach Arndt Enterprises have been unsuccessful. Utility Services' attorney declined Thursday (Aug. 15) to comment on the accident and did not return a message left Friday.

Clearing the Record

OSHA initially reported that Utility Services had no previous citations. On Friday, however, the agency corrected the record with information about the 2009 case.

OSHA records also show that Utility Services  was fined $8,000 in 2010 for vapor and dust violations. That case initially involved two serious violations, but was settled as one other-than-serious violation, although the fine was not reduced. The company paid the fine, OSHA said.

OSHA records also show inspections of Utility Service Co. worksites in March 2009, June 2010 and February 2013. No violations were found on those inspections, according to OSHA.

Mount Vernon Police Chief Mark Winder told KCRG-TV9 that he was unsure how Davis fell, but he said that the painter had been wearing a harness and other equipment.

Arndt Enterprises did not immediately respond Tuesday (Aug. 13) to a request for comment, and emails to the company were returned as undeliverable.

Mount Vernon Water Tower

Work on the water tower was nearly completed when Davis fell to his death while working for subcontractor Arndt Enterprises.

Work on the 500,000-gallon water tower was scheduled to start May 30; the project included inspection, cleaning and painting, according to the city's website.

"It is your worst nightmare. You always hate to have something like that happen," Winder told KCRG-TV9.

Investigation Status

The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an inspection into the accident Aug. 2. Iowa operates its own state OSHA program, which covers both private-sector and state and local government employees.

Iowa OSHA was also unable to confirm whether Utility Service was also a target of the investigation.

Arndt Enterprises provides water tower rehabilitation, petrochemical tank lining and exteriors work, tank maintenance and cleaning, industrial and floor coatings, and other services.

According to its website, Utility Service Co. was founded in 1963 as a tank painting contractor in Madison, NC. In 2008, the company was acquired by Suez Environment, a French waste management company. In 2011, Utility Services changed its name to Utility Service Group.

Today, the company bills itself as the largest tank service firm in the United States.

Editor's Note: A spokesman for Iowa OSHA said Tuesday (Aug. 20) that the agency was reviewing the role of Utility Service Group, in addition to the subcontractor, as part of its investigation into the Aug. 1 Mount Vernon water tower fatality.


Tagged categories: Contractors; Fall protection; Fatalities; Inspection; Maintenance coating work; OSHA; Subcontractors; Water Tanks

Comment from Michael Deaton, (8/20/2013, 6:06 AM)

a number of factors are involved in fall protection failing, including attachment point issues,improper wearing of the full body harness, positioning of the rope grab or cable grab & wear and tear of your equipment. having been in this business for 27 years and rigged some of the most difficult projects on the planet, i have watched my coworkers and myself climb around the steel at heights exceeding 500'. i've seen 2 coworkers perish from falls and neither one of them were hooked up. as a supt. if i notice any of my workers not hooked, they immediately come down & go home for that day, the second time is a written reprimand, & third strike your out.

Comment from peter gibson, (8/20/2013, 12:07 PM)

OSHA should not get involved if workers don't want to tether up at 500 ft.Workers must display common sense or suffer the consequences.Is this too ruthless ?

Comment from M. Halliwell, (8/20/2013, 1:25 PM)

I'd say it depends on how they got there, Peter. If they show up for work, are told "put this on, you're going up there" and are handed a harness...then yes, OSHA should be involved. If they are trained workers aware of the hazards and choose not to wear a can't legislate common sense. But if it is the latter case, I would sure hope the company would send the employee home (for violating corporate policy and to protect the company from being sued by the worker's estate if/when they fall).

Comment from Car F., (8/21/2013, 11:35 AM)

TRAINING and SUPERVISION are the most common causes of accidents. Failure to do both allows workers to do risky things. A company that it is always taking shortcuts, always ’running’, always underfunded creates a culture of tolerability among its work force “it’s ok to take unsafe short cuts if it save us a few bucks”. Accidents do not “just happen” they have primary and secondary causes and they have nothing to do with common sense, it has to do with a culture of poor training and poor [or non-existent]supervision.

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