Missouri’s largest water utility is facing two severe federal safety violations and a $140,000 fine in the death of a pipe cutter who was killed while working to rebuild tornado-ravaged Joplin.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Missouri American Water for two willful safety violations in the death May 16 of Robert W. Clark, 40, of Baxter Springs, KS.
Missouri American is one of 19 state subsidiaries of New Jersey-based American Water, the largest investor-owned water and wastewater utility company in the United States. The company has operations in 35 U.S. states and parts of Canada.
Fatal Saw Accident
Clark was killed as he and another employee were cutting sections of old cast-iron pipe as part of a project to reroute underground water lines in a residential neighborhood. Clark perished when a gas-powered saw he was operating kicked back.
Missouri American Water
Missouri American is part of American Water, the largest investor-owned water and wastewater utility in the U.S.
The work was part of the town’s rebuilding effort following the devastating EF5 tornado of May 2011.
St. Louis-based Missouri American employs about 800 workers statewide.
Willful citations are OSHA’s highest level of infraction, imposed for violations “committed with intentional knowledge or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.” Each violation carries a $70,000 fine.
In this case, the OSHA citations say the utility negligently exposed Clark and the other worker to "struck-by" hazards by failing to support the pipes on which they were working and by not adequately training them on pipe-cutting operations and hazards.
OSHA says that the pipe was not adequately supported to prevent it from shifting before Clark worked on it. That support is required by both the saw manufacturer and Missouri American Water’s own policies, which “specifically state” that the “cut most be supported on both sides” to prevent pinching of the cutting wheel, according to OSHA.
In a statement Friday (Nov. 9), Missouri American said it was "100 percent committed to the safety of its employees and their work environment" and would challenge the citations.
Frank Kartmann, president of Missouri American Water, called Clark's death the result of a "tragic accident."
“Missouri American Water lost one of our own employees, and we do not underestimate the impact it has on the family, our local employees and all those that work for our company, but we do not agree with the characterization described in the citation and plan to exercise our right to meet with OSHA to discuss them,” Kartmann said.
The utility said it had "a long history of meeting OSHA standards with well-established safety policies."
“This company firmly believes that every employee should return home from work in the same condition they arrived,” said Kartmann. “Working safely is not merely another priority for us; we believe it must be integrated into every single thing we do. We will continue to work with OSHA on this matter.”
"Employers such as Missouri American Water have a responsibility to take all necessary steps to eliminate hazards from the workplace and to ensure that workers are given the proper equipment, tools and training to conduct required tasks," said Charles E. Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, MO.
"It is tragic that an employee lost his life while performing valuable work to rebuild this devastated community."