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Minimum Fine Urged for Job-Site Deaths

Friday, October 24, 2014

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A grieving Wyoming family is demanding the establishment of a mandatory $50,000 fine for hazards that lead to a death in the workplace.

Brett Collins' family says the young construction worker's life was worth more than $2,363—the penalty assessed for the hazardous condition that cost him his life.

“Why is it that someone can kill my son and there is no consequence to that?” says Collins' mother, Kim.

Collins, 20, perished in August 2012 after an accident at a Wyoming worksite.


Brett Collins, a college student and construction worker, was killed on the job in 2012. His family says a $2,300 OSHA fine related to his death was not enough.

A college student and employee of general contractor COP Construction LLC, Collins was struck in the head by an excavator bucket while working in a trench at a water treatment plant.

COP, a major regional contractor, has offices in Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

Fines Reduced

Collins had been ordered into the trench, his family told the Casper Star-Tribune.

Initially, Wyoming's Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a fine of $13,860 against COP, according to news reports.

After negotiations, the fine was reduced to $6,773: $4,410 for inadequate safety training and $2,363 for allowing Collins to be in the trench while the excavator was operating.

Neither Wyoming OSHA nor COP responded to a request for comment on the case.

Bigger, Tougher Fines

Stunned by the penalty, the Collins family has proposed a bill now before the Wyoming state legislature that would mandate a non-negotiable $50,000 fine for a workplace safety violation that leads to a death.

The $50,000 fine would be assessed on top of any other penalties for safety violations "that materially contribute" to the death of a worker. A sliding scale, which would mandate a smaller fine for smaller companies, is under consideration.

The state bill is similar to one unsuccessfully pursued last year at the federal level. Federal OSHA penalties have not changed since 1990.

COP Construction LLC

Founded in 1947, COP Construction is a major regional general contractor. Its vast infrastructure portfolio includes a $14.1 million contract on Montana's Highway 191 - Gallatin Canyon Project.

A separate state measure, also under consideration, would increase the maximum fine for a serious violation in Wyoming from the current $7,000 to $12,000. The maximum fine for a willful violation, now $70,000, would increase to $120,000.

Wyoming's rate of worker fatalities frequently ranks among the highest in the U.S.

Voluntary Reform

The state's death toll declined from 2012 to 2013, "but we continue to have workplace fatalities," State Rep. Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne) told the Wyoming News earlier this month.

"And when a violation results in a fatality, I think there should be an enhanced penalty."

In fact, the bill to increase fines is identical to one introduced by Throne in 2010. That measure passed the House but died in the Senate.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have passed several measures that encourage the state's booming energy industry to "adopt voluntary safety reforms," the news outlet notes.

New Violations

A year after Collins was killed, COP Construction was fined again for an excavation-related violation after an inspection of a work site, the Star-Tribune reported.

That case was initially proposed as five serious violations and a total fine of $19,125. After disposition, the news outlet said, all of the violations were downgraded and the fine reduced to $15,300.

Official photo

Wyoming State Rep. Mary Throne introduced a bill in 2010 to increase workplace safety fines. The measure failed.

Federal OSHA records also show a trench-related case opened against COP in December 2013. That case originally involved three serious violations and fines totaling $16,800. The case was closed in January as one other-than-serious violation and a $4,900 fine, records show.

COP is a major regional contractor established in 1947. The company's portfolio includes bridges, dams, concrete structures, water, sanitary sewer and storm drain utilities, water and sanitary sewer treatment plants, and containment ponds. COP employs more than 200 permanent employees, with up to 150 temporary employees during peak season, according to its website.

“We’ve been listening to the stories of families for four or five years now, feeling offended they’ve lost loved ones as a result of a workplace safety violations,” Throne, a lawyer, told the Casper news outlet.

“I’m really tired of expressing all our sympathy and condolences and not doing anything.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Enforcement; Fatalities; General contractors; Good Technical Practice; North America; OSHA; Wastewater Plants

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