U.S. Arrests Recalcitrant Contractor


U.S. Marshals have taken into custody an Illinois sewer and water contractor who has allegedly refused to abate years of federal health and safety violations and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The arrest Oct. 27 of Mike Neri, of Elk Grove, IL, follows a year of escalating enforcement measures by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, culminating in an order by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The enforcement measures follow several years of accumulating violations by Neri, owner of Mike Neri Sewer & Water Contractor Inc., authorities say.

Violation History

OSHA records show five separate citations, totaling 25 violations, against Neri since 2009. Those cases include:

  • Two willful, two repeat and one other-than-serious violation and $150,920 in fines after a 2013 inspection;
  • Three willful, three repeat and one serious violation and $110,440 in fines after a 2010 inspection;
  • One willful, one repeat and one serious violation and $23,320 in fines (tentatively reduced to $5,000) in 2011; and
  • Seven serious violations and $4,800 in fines (tentatively halved) from 2009.

The violations alleged cover the gamut: from lack of training and lack of protective systems for workers to repeated violation of excavation requirements

Willful violations are OSHA's highest level of infraction, reserved for violations "committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health."

OSHA inspectors reported that Neri excavation sites had no protection against trench cave-ins and that large piles of soil, chunks of asphalt and other excavated material were left at the edge of trenches that were eight feet deep.

OSHA trenching standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be protected against collapse and that excavated material be at least two feet from the trench opening.

The contractor was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program in the spring of 2013.

Trench cavein

Trench cave-ins can happen without warning, and with fatal consequences. In 2011, OSHA Compliance Officer Rick Burns was inspecting an Ohio jobsite and ordered workers out of the unsecured trench at left. Minutes later, the trench collapsed (right).

"OSHA implemented a trenching and excavation special emphasis program in the 1980s, so the industry, including Neri, who has been in this business for decades, should be well aware of the safety regulations for trenching operations and the potential hazards to workers," said Diane Turek, then of OSHA's Chicago North Area Office, said last year.

Escalating Enforcement

More than a year ago, court records show, OSHA applied for summary enforcement of an order requiring Neri specifically to abate six violations and pay his fines. The Court of Appeals granted the application.

Still, the court says, Neri ignored the order. In May 2014, OSHA moved for a judgment of civil contempt. Neri did not respond to the motion, and the court granted the order on July 29, ruling both Neri and his company in contempt.

Neri was given 10 days to comply and was warned that failure to do so could lead to "coercive sanctions, including incarceration," the record says.

After nearly a month of silence, OSHA filed a motion requesting coercive sanctions. The court agreed and gave Neri until Sept. 19—and, later, until Oct. 15—to comply.

"No response has been filed, and no communication received from the contractor or from Mike Neri," the court record says.

On Oct. 27, the court issued the arrest order, which included a search warrant for Neri's permises.

Neri was arrested and will be held until he complies with the court order or "clearly demonstrate[s] that he is unable to comply."

A Special Master was appointed to recommend to the court "whether, and if so when, Mike Neri has complied and is eligible for release," the record reports.

"Mike Neri should remain in custody pending that decision."


Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Contractors; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Sewer systems

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