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Contractor Cited in Traffic Cop’s Death

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

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The construction contractor on a project that claimed the life of Westfield, MA, police officer has been issued a $14,000 fine after an investigation found a repeat safety violation.   

On Jan. 22, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Springfield, MA, area director, Mary Hoye, sent a letter to Revoli Construction Company about the inspection that started on July 26, 2012, after the death  of Police Officer Jose Torres.

The City of West Springfield had hired Revoli Construction, of Franklin, MA, for a pipeline project. Torres was directing traffic at the work site on Pontoosic Road in Westfield when a dump truck operated by a Revoli employee backed over him.

Citation and Letter

On Jan. 22, OSHA issued a citation for one repeat violation to the company, along with a stern letter warning owner Shawqi Alsarabi of other "significant" hazards.

The letter stated, “During the inspection, some conditions were observed which, although not in violation of the standards, are considered significant enough to be brought to your attention with the intent of encouraging your efforts to reduce exposure or to eliminate it completely."

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

Officer Jose Torres was killed when a construction vehicle backed over him.

Hoye's investigation revealed that the truck had the required backup alarm, but Torres never realized the truck was backing up toward him.

Repeat Violation

Revoli Construction Company was cited for a repeat violation because it allegedly “did not instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury."

Specifically, OSHA said, Revoli Construction did not instruct other employer’s employees on the hazards created when Revoli employees moved vehicles around the jobsite.

The company was cited for the same violation in a final order on April 7, 2011, according to the new citation.

“Specifically," Hoye wrote the company, "OSHA is concerned with your company’s apparent lack of focus on safety and accident prevention related to backing up construction vehicles with an obstructed view to the rear in roadway work zones.”

The letter then provided a list of recommended, voluntary actions that the construction company should take to reduce or eliminate employees’ exposure risk factors.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Backup Alarm 'Not Protective Enough'

In a Jan. 23 letter to Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik, the OSHA area director stated that the citation was determined to be “specifically associated with Mr. Torres’ death.”

Preventing Backovers

Dump trucks cause more backover deaths by far than any other work vehicle, according to OSHA. The agency has information on preventing backovers on its site.

"We felt there should have been more coordination between the company and the people directing traffic," said Hoye.

"Our feeling is that having a plan for the movement of people and vehicles on the site and talking about that plan is a big step," said Hoye. "Unfortunately, and OSHA has seen this over the years, having a backup alarm is not protective enough."

Hoye said that at the time of Torres' death, two backup alarms were sounding. One was for the truck that hit him, and the other was a distinct-sounding alarm for another truck.

More Detours Planned

The company is scheduled to finish the job in the spring, and Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik plans to close Pontoosic Road—and any other road where Revoli is working—to all traffic.

"For everyone's safety ... that is going to be my response any time Revoli comes here. We'll just post detours," said Knapik.

Knapik also said he plans to increase safety training for ever city employee who might be on a road work site.

A veteran officer with 27 years of experience, Jose Torres left behind a wife and two sons. The 53-year-old had been recognized for his heroism twice; once for preventing a 1996 suicide attempt during which Torres was injured and once in 2000 for deploying spikes in front of a speeding vehicle "seconds before contact."

Past OSHA Citations

Revoli Construction was cited by OSHA on five occasions in the nine years before Torres' death. According to OSHA records, the cases include two serious violations issued after a 2009 inspection in Needham, MA, stemming from specific excavation requirements and safety training and education standards. The violations were upheld in 2011 by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In 2006, OSHA issued two serious and one willful citation, citing standards for equipment, general safety and health provisions, and safety training and education. The $60,200 fine was settled at $21,000, and the willful violation was reduced to serious.

In a 2005 case, OSHA imposed $115,900 in fines for 10 serious and two willful violations. The company was working on a pipeline construction project in Gloucester, MA, and an OSHA inspector observed two employees working in an unprotected, 14-foot-deep trench without a ladder or other exit route in case of an emergency.

Five serious violations were later dropped, and the case was settled for $62,500.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Fatalities; OSHA

Comment from Donald L Crusan, (2/5/2013, 7:36 AM)

Do I see a lack of common sense and responsibility on Torres part here. I believe Personal Accountability should be considered 1st & formost. Come on, a cop, of all people, should be well trained in the potential of this happening!

Comment from William Feliciano, (2/5/2013, 1:53 PM)

I would not be so quick to pass judgement here. As a cop, he was directing traffic in a construction zone, something that requires utmost attention, and comes with its associated cocophany of noises and distractions, especially in an urban environment. As he was looking out for the traveling public's well being, perhaps someone else should have been more proactively looking out for his.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (2/5/2013, 4:54 PM)

I'd chime in with a question or two for the dump truck driver: Did you walk around your vehicle before backing it up? and If you had an obstructed view behind, where was your spotter? Up here, I get to deal with big trucks on occasion...the ones that can litterally run over a 1-ton welding truck and have no clue they hit anything...and both the drivers and those of us working in the area take precautions to try to keep the folks on the ground safe. It is unfortunate and sad that such easily preventable and fatal mistakes happen...and even worse when it seems that they happen in spite of warnings.

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