Painting Contractor Liable in 2 Deaths
OXFORD, OH—A Michigan painting contractor is facing 30 federal citations and $199,000 in fines after a scaffolding collapse that claimed the lives of two painters.
Florjan Nilaj, 25, and Gazmend Vukaj, 40, were painting a water tower at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 from scaffolding 100 feet up when the scaffold's hoist failed and a nylon suspension rope broke, causing the men to fall to their deaths, authorities said.
Nilaj and Vukaj worked for V&T Painting Inc., of Farmington Hills, MI.
Now, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued citations for 17 serious safety violations at the accident site in Oxford, OH, and a second set of 13 violations for hazards at a second site in Hamilton, OH, where V&T was painting another tower. The Hamilton inspection was conducted after the Oxford accident.
V&T had an eight-tower contract with the Southwest Ohio Regional Water District for the tank painting work and had completed the first six towers, reports said.
V&T declined to comment Friday (April 24) on the OSHA citations. A man who answered the phone called the citations "hocus pocus" and indicated that the company would contest them.
Butler County Sheriff’s Detective Kim Peters told the local Journal-News after the accident that the workers were not wearing harnesses.
“It looked like they were trying to fix some cabling, and it broke,” Peters said.
Water district spokeswoman Norma Pennock also told whio.com that the Oxford workers had no fall protection.
"These men had worked properly and safely harnessed all day long—until late in the day, when they did not," said Pennock.
Fall protection saved the lives of two Texas water-tower painters in 2003 when their scaffold collapsed 45 feet up, according to OSHA. "We've always required the use of fall protection," DMS Painting Inc. co-owner Marcos Kasvicis told OSHA at the time. "We have even fired employees when we caught them not wearing it."
She added: "We are extremely saddened that such a thing occurred. These folks have been working on jobs for us for several years."
The OSHA citations issued for the accident site, which carry $114,000 in fines, allege:
OSHA has cited V&T Painting for 13 violations at the accident site and 17 violations at another water-tower-painting project inspected after the accident. Proposed fines total $199,000.
The OSHA documents report that personal fall arrest lifelines were at the scene but were improperly attached and were exposed to sharp edges and abrasion. It was not clear if the lines were in use at the time of the fall.
The other water-tower painting site drew similar, but slightly fewer, citations and fines totaling $85,000.
"Two families are devastated by this preventable tragedy," said Ken Montgomery, OSHA's area director in Cincinnati. "No one should have to suffer such a painful loss.
"Making sure protective equipment is in use and working properly is a common-sense way to save lives and prevent injuries," Montgomery said.
"Companies that put their workers dangerously high above the ground must provide protection to stop their falls. We are seeing a disturbing trend in deaths and injuries among workers on communications and other types of towers that could have been prevented."
The violations come on the eve of OSHA's annual National Safety Stand-Down, set for May 4-15.
The 2015 National Safety Stand-Down aims to call attention to construction's leading cause of death.
The newly launched National Safety Stand-Down website for 2015 includes information on:
The National Safety Stand-Down was launched three years ago with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), The Center for Construction Research and Training, and others. Additional partners for this year's event include the American Society for Safety Engineers (ASSE), National Safety Council, National Construction Safety Executives, and U.S. Air Force.