Local Company Fined by OSHA for $1.7 million Due To Violations

Safety Indictment

How important is it to your construction company to get on a rooftop without considering fall protection?  Is it worth lawsuits for the business owner?  Is it worth over $1.7 million in violations?  How about manslaughter and/or workplace manslaughter charges?

With proper training, most falls can be prevented and when the heights are high, so are the stakes!  If someone falls, businesses could be in jeopardy because of stiff OSHA fines and penalties, risks to your company’s reputation, and legal charges filed for the business owner if there are repeated violations of OSHA regulations.

In Portland, Maine, just before Christmas 2018, a roofer at Purvis Home Improvement Company didn’t come home to his family because he fell while climbing down from the roof onto a ladder jack scaffolding plank. He lost his life that morning as he landed on the ground without wearing any fall protection. One can only imagine how devastated his family must be, and the effects to his coworkers.

Insurance may help the family cope with the loss of his income, but can never replace this loss of life. Workers Compensation may help pay for costs, but the loss to the business is largely uninsurable. OSHA fines are not able to be insured against.  The loss of reputation in the community may be difficult to overcome.

OSHA had previously issued violations to Purvis Home Improvement Company, including a repeat violation in 2015 (risking 3 people) and again in 2018 (risking 6 people) not using fall protection.  The company’s owner, Shawn D. Purvis is now facing a manslaughter indictment as well as OSHA penalties of $1,792,726.  Purvis is appealing.

The previous violations constituted a notice showing that Purvis knew about the fall from heights hazard and either didn’t make the corrections, or didn’t maintain them. Either way, when there is a risk of falling from heights that could kill, employers must insist that employees and subcontractor employees utilize appropriate fall protection.  In Construction, the OSHA trigger height is 6 feet while in Shipyards the height is 5 feet.   For other industries (general industry), the trigger height is 4 feet.  The trigger height for contractors following the Army Corps of Engineers’ EM-385-1-1 standard is 6 feet.

In this tragedy, the fall was reported to have occurred at the transition between the roof and a scaffold plank.  It is unclear how the individual was climbing down, but he was transitioning to a ladder jack scaffolding plank when he lost his footing and fell 20 feet.

Having been indicted by a grand jury, Mr. Purvis faces Manslaughter charges associated with employment management where he intentionally or knowingly violated an occupations safety or health standard of the state or federal government, which is a crime in the State of Maine.  If convicted under the workplace manslaughter statute, he could face up to $20,000 in fines and/or up to 30 years of imprisonment.

Preventing Falls

There are many options for protecting your employees from deadly falls.  Project managers can redesign the methods they choose by employing aerial lifts, work platforms and manlifts for safer access.  Some roof work configurations allow for the use of temporary guard railings, nets or even controlled roofing zones, and positioning devices.  If these are not viable options, managers can look at personal fall arrest equipment that doesn’t prevent the fall, but helps prevent a deadly landing.

If scaffolds are erected to limit the fall height, there must be a safe way to make the transition.  Ladders are not allowed to be set up on a scaffold for reaching a higher level unless it is tightly secured against moving in any direction. Employees cannot be allowed to jump or climb over two feet difference of elevation, so use anchored steps or ladder.  If possible, choose a ramp but it also must be securely anchored.

Whatever method managers choose, they must effectively train and designate on-site competent persons to do regular inspections and make corrections to problems before it becomes a hazard to someone.

When following EM-385 fall protection regulations, employers must not only designate a competent person for fall protection, but also a Fall Protection Program manager, a Qualified Person as well as a Competent Rescuer, Authorized Rescuer and the End User.  There are training and retraining requirements as well as roles and responsibilities like inspections that must be adhered to under Section 21 of EM-385.

Do you need to train your Fall Protection Competent and/or Qualified Persons?  Do you know how to choose the best method to protect your employees?