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Safety Firm Fined $448K in Fatal Shock

Monday, March 4, 2013

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One of the nation's largest highway marking and safety contractors is facing $448,000 in fines and a list of egregious federal safety citations after an employee was electrocuted on an interstate project.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued six willful citations—the agency's highest level of infraction—and four serious citations against Houston-based Highway Technologies Inc. in the death of Joseph C. Janisch, 34, in September.

The company, which had been inspected by OSHA 10 times since 2007, including once for a similar incident, was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

The company did not respond Friday (March 1) to requests for comment.

Power Line Contact

Authorities said a Highway Technologies crew was installing guard rails and signs along a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 94 in western Wisconsin under a contract with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation when the accident occurred about 7:20 a.m. Sept. 17.

Joseph Janisch

Joseph C. Janisch, 34, was killed, leaving a wife and four children.

Authorities said Janisch, a married father of four children, of Ellsworth, WI, was working with equipment that came in contact with overhead power lines near Menomonie, WI. Janisch had worked for Highway Technologies for about a year and a half after spending most of his life on a dairy farm, the Pierce County Herald reported in his obituary.

Willful Citations

The OSHA citations include six instance-by-instance willful violations of:

  • Failing to ensure that parts of the equipment being operated were not within 10 feet of a power line;
  • Exposing workers to electrical shock and electrocution hazards; and
  • Failing to ensure that any part of the machinery was not within six feet of an overhead power line while the machinery was traveling beneath the power lines.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Highway Technologies
Highway Technologies Inc.

Highway Technologies faces six willful violations, OSHA's highest level of infraction.

OSHA also issued four serious violations, alleging failure to:

  • Identify electrical work zones;
  • Determine if any part of the equipment being operated would be closer than 20 feet of a power line;
  • Train each worker on safe clearance distances from power lines; and
  • Evaluate that each employee understood the training and risks of working near overhead power lines.

Serious violations reflect "substantial probability" of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

'Willful Failure to Comply'

"Highway Technologies failed to protect its workers from serious electrocution hazards," Dr. David Michaels, OSHA Administrator, said in a statement.

"Multiple instances of the same violation over a period of time clearly demonstrate a willful failure to comply with basic safety and health standards. Employers must take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment."

The Severe Violator Enforcement Program focuses on what OSHA calls "recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations." The program mandates targeted follow-up inspections and allows OSHA to inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

About the Company

Highway Technologies Inc. employs about 1,500 workers in 13 states installing pavement markings, highway guardrails, crash attenuators, barrier walls and signage. Before Janisch's death, OSHA reported, the agency had inspected the company 10 times since 2007, resulting in citations for nine serious violations.

Highway Technologies
Highway Technologies Inc.

The Houston-based company provides pavement marking, guardrail installation, signs and other safety services and products across 13 states.

One of those inspections was triggered by the injury of an employee who accidentally came in contact with an overhead power line while installing a highway sign.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings.

   

Tagged categories: Fatalities; Hazards; Health and safety; OSHA; Roads/Highways; Traffic control; Traffic paint; Warning signs

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