Federal authorities have slapped hefty fines on a Wisconsin painting contractor after one painter was found straddling the parapet of a highway overpass and another fell 25 feet from a bridge this summer.
|Problems with planking are a common cause of scaffolding injury. In this file photo from OSHA, the planking shows splits, cracks, gaps and scorch marks.|
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited United Contracting Inc. (previously known as United Painting), of Forest Junction, WI, for 14 safety violations, including four willful violations for scaffolding and fall protection hazards to bridge and overpass painters at two job sites.
7 Previous Cases
The alleged violations stem from inspections in May and June at United job sites in Fond du Lac—the 16th and 17th times that OSHA has inspected the company since 1993.
OSHA has cited United for fall protection and scaffolding violations on four other occasions. The company has resolved six cases with OSHA since 2004, including four cases that began in 2004.
In addition, United has an open OSHA case from 2009 involving eight citations (seven of them serious) related to lead and arsenic exposure and respiratory protection issues.
The company did not respond Monday (Nov. 28) to a request for comment.
Bridge Painting Violations
The citations from the May inspection include two willful violations—OSHA’s highest level of infraction—with a fine of $28,000 each. Willful violations are those “committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.”
One violation alleges that scaffolding on a bridge job was not designed by a qualified person and was not built and loaded in accordance with a qualified design. The other alleges that painters were leaning over guardrails that were too low, to suspend the scaffolding system.
An OSHA compliance officer initiated that inspection on May 23 after seeing a member of a bridge painting crew straddling the parapet of a highway bridge.
Four serious safety violations were also alleged:
• Failing to block parapet hooks to prevent movement;
• Not securing parapet hooks;
• Allowing employees to sit on a parapet wall without adequate fall protection; and
• Not properly securing personal fall arrest system snap hooks.
Penalties for that project total $70,400.
Overpass Painting Violations
The second inspection, at a different United Contracting site on June 28, followed a 25-foot fall by painter Paul Stevens, 41, of Green Bay. United Painting has a $326,830.20 contract to remove lead paint and repaint the U.S. Highway 41 Bridge in Fond du Lac.
Stevens had been climbing a ladder between the suspended scaffolding hanging from the bridge and the bridge overpass, when plywood on the scaffolding shifted and started to fall, police said.
The shift caused the ladder to shift and fall as well. Stevens fell 12 feet, struck the scaffolding, and then fell another 13 feet to the ground, police said. Stevens suffered numerous injuries in the fall.
Stevens was wearing a safety harness, but it was not connected to a safety line at the time, police said.
OSHA cited United for two willful violations in that case as well, similar to those in the May case.
In addition, the company was accused of six serious violations, including failure to:
• Provide forklift training;
• Block parapet hooks from movement;
• Secure parapet hooks; and
• Secure the scaffold platform used as a ladder access point.
Another citation was issued for making alterations to a forklift. Proposed penalties for that project total $78,800.
OSHA has placed United Contracting in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections of recalcitrant employers with a record willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.
Detailed information about fall hazards and information on scaffold hazards, including an interactive e-Tool, are available on OSHA’s site. Nearly three-fourths of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed the accident either to the planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object, according to OSHA.
|OSHA offers numerous publications and resources on suspended access and other aspects of fall protection.|
United Contracting has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply with or contest them.
“United Contracting has a responsibility to ensure that its employees are properly protected from falls when performing painting operations,” said Frank Winingham, OSHA's area director in Appleton. “OSHA is committed to protecting workers, especially when employers fail to do so.”