MINNEAPOLIS -- The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Highway Technologies Inc. in Minneapolis for 10 safety – including six willful– violations after a worker died from injuries sustained while working with equipment that came into contact with overhead power lines on I-94 near Menomonie, Wis.
The company was performing guard rail and sign installation for a 13-mile stretch of I-94 in western Wisconsin under contract with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation when the incident occurred on Sept. 17, 2012. Citations have been issued for six instance-by-instance willful violations of failing to ensure that parts of the equipment being operated were not within 10 feet of a power line, exposing workers to electrical shock and electrocution hazards. These citations also include instances of failing to ensure that any part of the machinery was not within 6 feet of an overhead power line while the machinery was traveling beneath the power lines. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
'Highway Technologies failed to protect its workers from serious electrocution hazards,' said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. 'Multiple instances of the same violation over a period of time clearly demonstrate a willful failure to comply with basic safety and health standards. Employers must take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment.'
Due to the nature of the hazards and the violations cited, Highway Technologies Inc. has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure future compliance with the law. OSHA's program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.
Four serious violations also cited include failing to identify electrical work zones, determine if any part of the equipment being operated would be closer than 20 feet of a power line, train each worker on safe clearance distances from power lines, and evaluate that each employee understood the training and risks of working near overhead power lines. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Highway Technologies Inc., headquartered in Houston, employs about 1,500 workers in 13 states installing highway guardrails, crash attenuators, barrier walls and signage. Prior to this investigation, the company had been inspected by OSHA 10 times since 2007, resulting in citations for nine serious violations. One of these inspections was initiated based on employee injuries sustained from contacting an overhead power line while installing a highway sign.
Proposed penalties for citations issued following this current investigation total $448,000. The citations can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/Highway_Technologies_Inc._640558_02-26-2013.pdf.*
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Eau Claire Area Office at 715-832-9019.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.