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Contractor to Defy Fine in Worker Death

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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The employer of a worker who was crushed to death in a building collapse says he plans to ignore the federal fines imposed in the case.

If so, this will be the second time in three years that Kennebec Home Improvements, of Augusta, ME, has done so.

 Kennebec Home Improvements was working on this Albion, ME, jobsite when the house collapsed on top of a worker, killing him.

 Maine State Police

The contractor was working on this Albion, ME, house when it collapsed on top of a worker, killing him.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is already pressing collection proceedings against the company to recover $6,750 in fines stemming from five serious citations issued in 2010.

‘The Biggest Bully There Is’

Now, company owner Linwood Stover, 55, is facing a new case: three serious safety violations cited after an improperly supported house fell on top of his employee, Bobbie Rodriques, 54.

Rodrigues was killed and Stover suffered a back injury in the collapse May 15. A third employee on site summoned help.

The team had been attempting to replace a post foundation under the building and had jacked up the structure when it “apparently shifted and slipped off the posts,” according to the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Serious Violations

The OSHA citations say the company failed to:

• Provide a solid foundation for jacks and place wood blocks above and below jacks;

• Secure the jacks with cribbing or blocking;

• Train employees to recognize unsafe conditions; and

• Have a competent person inspect the job site.

Serious violations, which carry a “substantial probability” of death or serious injury, carry a maximum $7,000 fine. In this case, each violation was assessed at just $3,080.

The amount was drastically reduced because of the company’s small size, but then increased slightly because of its prior violations, according to OSHA.

‘Picking on the Little People’

The Bangor Daily News reported that Stover, who has worked in construction since he was 19, said he wasn’t going to pay the new fines, calling the violations inaccurate.

“We weren’t doing anything they said we were doing,” he told the paper. “Nothing was up on stilts or on our blocks. Everything was on existing posts they had under the camp.” Rodrigues had been trying to shore up a sagging section of the floor when the house fell down, Stover said.

Stover said OSHA had been “picking on” him and was not concerned about safety.

Stover’s lawyer, Pat Perrino of Augusta, said he was still reviewing the citations. The company has until Aug. 31 to contest the case; otherwise, the citations stand as issued.

“My gut reaction is we’ll probably appeal,” Perrino told The Portland Herald. “OSHA has a habit of picking on the little people all the time and making all these findings, but they’re afraid to go after anyone else.”

Stover told the Bangor Daily News that OSHA’s “system is way broken. They need to fix their system before they try to fix mine.”

IRS Calling

OSHA has procedures in place if companies do not pay settled fines.

That process starts with OSHA’s internal debt collector and then escalates to private collection firms. Hard-core holdouts will eventually hear from the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS step can be quite effective, OSHA Area Director Bill Coffin told the Kennebec Journal: “Some people turn over a leaf real quick when they get a letter from Washington.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Contractors; Health and safety; OSHA; Residential contractors

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/30/2012, 9:37 AM)

A worker dies, it could have been prevented and a mere $3,080 fine is "picking on little people"?!?!?

Comment from James Johnson, (8/30/2012, 10:51 AM)

A worker died, no one knows if it was preventable or not, the owner says the OSHA claims are bogus. Some independent third party needs to find the truth to sort this out. If OSHA's claims are true, then he should be fined, but if they are bogus then he should be reimbursed all costs to defend himself and the person filing any bogus claim should be immediately terminated. There needs to be accountability on both sides.

Comment from Kay Melcher, (8/31/2012, 6:06 AM)

James, the independent third party is OSHA. Worker safety laws exist for a reason. This owner has thumbed his nose at the laws more than once, and this time one man died and another was severely injured. There already are appeal processes, and OSHA's fines are ridiculously low to begin with. I wonder how many more workers will have to die before we put some teeth into the penalties for needlessly exposing them to danger.

Comment from John Fauth, (8/31/2012, 9:42 AM)

I am certainly no apologist for anyone conducting business unsafely, particularly when it results in an injury or death. On the other hand, it's a sad reality that some of our most important regulatory agencies (including OSHA and EPA) are no longer accepted as independent third parties. And much of their reputation has been tarnished by their own statements, and doings.

Comment from Larry Zacharias, (8/31/2012, 2:25 PM)

It does not take much time, effort, or money to prevent most serious accidents. Repeated serious incidents, as in this case, are a definite signal that the owner or manager of the business is either incompetent, uncaring, or is deliberately placing profit above life. There is some truth in the claim that OSHA over-regulates, however, in cases of repeated injury, that argument is just a smokescreen to hide outright negligence and an unwillingness to change. One of the few things that California has leaned is that citations and fines will not make a business with this attitude change their unsafe practices. Out here, if an employee is injured or killed after repeated citations for willful or serious violations, the offender is now held criminally liable and will end up behind bars for manslaughter.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/4/2012, 9:28 AM)

A jury trial should certainly meet James's criteria for an independent 3rd party. Trial by a jury of his peers.

Comment from James Johnson, (9/4/2012, 11:37 AM)

OSHA is both a regulatory and ENFORCEMENT agency, thereby far from an Independent Third Party. I am not saying the contractor is right or without guilt. What I am saying is there have been statements made by both the defendant and the prosecutor, so what is needed is an independent third party, to determine who is correct as both sides are biased. In this case both sides have also been found to have overstepped the bounds in the past. A Grand Jury could hear evidence from both sides and determine if a full trial is justified, and if so let it go before a judge and jury to decide guilt and/or fine. Such action would serve to both rein in government over reach and to hold the contractor responsible for his actions.

Comment from John Fauth, (9/5/2012, 11:26 AM)

As Tom noted, a jury trial is the proper independent third party. What concerns some people is that the EPA can (and does) use the expense of defending one's self in a trial as a tacit form of punishment. Innocent or guilty, the EPA will exact its pound of flesh. On the other hand, Grand Juries are generally employed when a prosecutor wants someone else to absolve themselves of the responsibility inherent to making the difficult decision as to whether the case is strong enough to justify prosecution, or when the right decision might be politically unpopular. The EPA is not concerned with its reputation, or conviction rate.

Comment from Mike McCloud, (9/6/2012, 8:37 AM)

By the time you get to a jury trial, you have spent so much money on attorneys that it is cheaper to pay the fine.

Comment from James Johnson, (9/7/2012, 12:08 PM)

I forget what they call the legislation, but there is federal law that provides for the federal government to pay an individuals legal fees in such cases. The law was passed specifically to address the fact most individuals and businesses do not have the money to defend themselves from acts by the federal government.

Comment from Mike McCloud, (9/10/2012, 8:55 AM)

I'd like to know what act that is. I wonder if I can get reimbursed?

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