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Cited in Deaths, Company to Train Others

Friday, March 30, 2012

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The Indiana employer of two tower workers killed in a 320-foot fall will receive a drastically reduced fine and citations while launching a paid training program, under a settlement with state safety officials.

 ERI Inc.

 ERI Inc.

ERI manufactures and installs towers, structural support systems, and other broadcast system components.

The tentative agreement between ERI Installations Inc. and the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) reduces the original case—four “knowing” violations, five serious violations, and $91,500 in fines—to a total of six serious violations and a fine of $18,000.

The disposition deletes two “knowing” violations—the equivalent of a federal OSHA “willful” violation—and one serious violation, and reduces two knowing violations to serious.

‘Fee for Training’ Required

The agreement also launches the former military aircraft antenna developer in a new business: training.

Under the tentative settlement, ERI agrees to “conduct training regarding proper rigging and operation of gin poles for tower erection.” The climbing/fall protection training will be available to any contractor or other industry person “on a fee for training basis.”

ERI will determine those fees, “within reasonable industry standards for such training,” an IOSHA spokesman said Friday (March 30).

The agreement also prescribes that “any training regarding safe climbing technique and/or fall protection will instruct that climbers shall maintain 100% fall protection by use of [a] fall protection system which must always include a full body harness and connecting means between the harness and an anchorage or anchorage connector.”

“Such connecting means may consist of a lanyard, energy absorber, fall arrester, lifeline, self-retracting, lanyard, or suitable combinations of these.”

According to its web site, ERI designs, develops, fabricates, installs and tests transmission systems for integrated antennas and tower structures. Training is not listed as a service.

Climbers Killed

Ernesto Garcia, 29, of Laredo, and Paul Aliff, 32, of Mesquite, plunged more than 300 feet to their deaths last April as they and three other workers were installing a 500-foot-tall radio tower near Colburn, IN.

After a five-month investigation, IOSHA issued the nine citations, saying its investigation “shows that the company knowingly exposed its employees to unsafe working conditions.”

 National Association of Tower Erectors

 National Association of Tower Erectors

IOSHA said the workers had not been 100% tied off when moving around the tower.

Although Garcia and Aliff were said to be wearing safety cables at the time of the accident, IOSHA found that their fall protection was inadequate.

The citations said the men “were exposed to fall hazards while riding the pole connected to the jump line of the Gin Pole,” violating safety guidelines established by the National Association of Tower Erectors.

A steel gin pole is a lifting device required to install guyed and self-supporting towers, antennas, lines and other tower equipment. The jump line is used to raise and lower the gin pole. In this case, the men were reportedly attached to a 90-foot gin pole that fell free of the tower when some rigging failed.

Language Softened

ERI appealed the case in October, saying IOSHA did not have all the facts right.

The negotiations ended up eliminating some citations, reducing the severity of others, and softening some of the language.

For example, an original allegation that employees “were not provided with adequate fall protection” now says only that they “were exposed to fall hazards.”

The agreement notes that ERI “is not admitting to failing to provide fall protection and is not admitting that safety nets are necessary or advisable in tower erection or servicing work.”

Notre Dame Case Cited

Indiana Department of Labor spokesman Robert Dittmer said the agency has stipulated similar conditions in negotiating with employers in the past.

He cited a 2011 IOSHA settlement with the University of Notre Dame. In that case, Notre Dame paid a reduced fine and had a “knowing” violation reduced to serious in the death of a 20-year-old student videographer who had been killed while filming a football practice from a fully extended scissor lift in high winds.

The agreement required the university to develop a nationwide safety program on scissor lifts. Unlike the current case, however, the university was not allowed to charge for the program.

The ERI agreement must still be approved by the Indiana Board of Safety Review, which is expected to take up the case in April.


Tagged categories: Education; Fall protection; Health and safety; lift; OSHA; Tower; Worker training

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