Water Tower Fall Nets $180K in Fines


After a painter fell 70 feet in June inside the Wisconsin water tower he was cleaning, the federal agency that is charged with ensuring worker health and safety said they knew something was not right.

As it turned out, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it was correct. It found 40 serious safety and health violations, and charged LC United Painting, of Sterling Heights, MI, with $178,640 in fines.

“This worker suffered severe and preventable injuries because LC United Painting failed to ensure the use of adequate fall protection,” said Ann Grevenkamp, the Madison, WI, OSHA area director in a statement released Wednesday (Dec. 8).

“Employers must evaluate their job site to ensure workers are protected,” she continued. “No one should be injured on the job.”

The Fall

The man, who authorities did not identify, was contracted by the Michigan-based company to perform maintenance on a water tower in Baraboo, WI, according to a news statement at the time of the incident. According to OSHA, the laborer—who had been preparing the tower for a fresh coating—was not wearing fall protection as required.

A TV station in Madison said the man was taken to a local hospital with injuries, but survived.

OSHA inspected the site after the June 2 incident and issued two sets of citations: One from an inspection on June 3, and other from a subsequent inspection on June 10. The federal agency sent both sets of citations to the company on Nov. 30.

The company has 15 days to comply or contest the violations.

First Inspection

On June 3, OSHA officials found the following violations that totaled $122,430:

  • Wire rope used to rig the ladders inside the tank’s bowl were exposed to sharp edges, $5,390;
  • Powered truck operators were not competent to be operating the equipment, $3,850;
  • No competent person was inspecting the site regularly, $5,390;
  • Clip eyes used to rig the containment were not in contact with the dead end of the rope, $4,620;
  • Pneumatic tools used in the tank’s bowl were not secured in a way that would prevent the tool from becoming accidentally disconnected, $5,390;
  • Safety devices were not installed on an air compressor that would have reduced pressure in case of a hose failure, $3,080;
  • Employees were using damaged welding leads, $3,850;
  • Employees walking around the tower were exposed to damaged electrical cords, which could have caused a shock, $5,390;
    ©iStock.com / benkrut

    Among multiple violations, OSHA said the painting company was not using appropriate fall protection gear when the worker fell while inside the tank's bowl.

  • Fault circuit breakers and grounding was not used on temporary wires, $5,390;
  • Electrical cords were passing through the water tower base door, $3,850;
  • A hand grinder was missing a ground prong, $3,850;
  • Damaged flexible cords had no strain relief, $3,850;
  • Employees were using improper, single-point scaffolding that was not inspected by a competent person, $3,850;
  • A competent person was not overseeing workers who were assembling or moving scaffolding, $3,850;
  • The vertical lifeline was not capable of supporting 5,000 pounds and was tied with a knot, $5,390;
  • Employees using ladders inside the tank were not protected against holes, $5,390;
  • Employees were using a ropegrab system not capable of supporting 5,000 pounds as fall protection, $5,390;
  • An employee was using a fall arrest system that would allow him to drop more than 6 feet, $4,620;
  • The company lacked a rescue plan in the event of a fall, $5,390;
  • Fall arrest systems were not inspected prior to use, $5,390;
  • Those workers inside the tank’s bowls were not qualified to recognize fall hazards, $5,390;
  • The windshield on a forklift was broken and obstructed the operator’s view, $3,850;
  • A worker operated a forklift without inspecting it, and the forklift lacked warning devices, $3,850;
  • Employees accessing the inside of the water tank were not using fall protection, $5,390;
  • Workers inside the tank’s bowl were using an unapproved aluminum ladder, $5,390; and
  • Workers were not trained on ladder safety and hazards, $5,390.

Second Inspection

Then, when OSHA returned on June 10, the inspectors found additional violations with fines of $56,210:

  • Employees working on painting, blasting and cleaning operations inside the tank’s bowl were not using air sampling to check for vapors, communication equipment, standby personnel and a permitting system to access the confined space, $5,390;
  • The company did not have a written respiratory protection plan that required workers to wear respirators, $3,850;
  • The company did not examine dust exposure and other toxic chemical exposures—including silica—for a fine of $3,850;
  • Workers did not receive a medical evaluation prior to blasting or wearing respirators, $3,080;
  • Respirators were not tightfitting, $3,850;
    ©iStock.com / Pamela Moore

    Frayed wires and a lack of circuit breakers on temporary cords and equipments were among the other violations, OSHA said.

  • On a diesel air compressor, the company failed to provide a carbon monoxide alarm, $5,390;
  • Compressor filters on the blasting system had not been replaced per the manufacturer’s instructions, $3,080;
  • Employees were not trained correctly on how to use their respirators, $3,850;
  • The company lacked a written communication plan to let workers know about potential toxic hazards, $3,850;
  • Workers did not have training regarding the hazards with which they were working, $3,850;
  • Employees did not know what kind of hazards were involved in the work they were performing or how to take necessary precautions when working on blasting, painting and cleaning inside the tank’s bowl, $5,390;
  • Both a grounds man and a crew leader were exposed to excessive noise levels for a long period of time, $3,850;
  • Painters applying isocyanate-based paint were not wearing gloves, $3,850; and
  • Acetylene and oxygen cylinders were stored on their sides on the ground and next to each other, $3,080.

Previous Trouble

The recent inspections were not the first time LC United Painting had been in trouble with OSHA. A review of inspection data on OSHA’s website revealed at least six inspections in the past five years.

At least one of those resulted in a serious safety violation for which OSHA assessed a $2,940 fine.


Tagged categories: Blasting; Confined space; Fall protection; Government contracts; Hazards; Health & Safety; North America; OSHA; Paint application; potable water; Tower

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