Painting Company Owner Faces Criminal Charges Over Worker's Electrocution

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By Bruce Rolfsen  

The owner of a western Pennsylvania painting company, one of whose employees was electrocuted on the job, faces criminal charges for violating federal workplace safety standards, according to documents filed July 17 in federal court (United States v. Caruso, W.D. Pa., No. 12-cr-195, 7/17/12).

Thomas C. Caruso, owner of Modern Painting and Decorating in New Kensington, faces a single misdemeanor count of “willful violation of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation causing the death of an employee” (29 U.S.C. 666(e)), which carries a maximum penalty of six months incarceration, one year of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

The Labor Department agency already has penalized Modern Painting with a $57,400 fine for one willful and two serious violations stemming from the agency's investigation of the April 7, 2010, death, OSHA records show.

Modern Painting employee Paul Thomas was painting a commercial building when he came in contact with a high voltage electrical wire and was electrocuted, according to an October 2010 OSHA statement.

Caruso was cited by federal prosecutors for violating an OSHA rule, 29 C.F.R. § 1926.416(a)(1), that requires employers to prevent workers from laboring close to any part of an electric power circuit unless the workers are protected against electric shock by insulating the circuit or de-energizing and grounding the circuit.

Caruso is due to be arraigned Aug. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh.

Although criminal charges for violating OSHA rules are rare, the charge against Caruso marks the second time in less than a year that prosecutors in the western Pennsylvania district have taken an alleged violator to court. In February, the superintendent of a motel construction site pleaded guilty to violating fall protection regulations after a worker fell 40 feet to his death in August 2009.

During 2011, the Labor Department referred 10 cases to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, down from 14 referrals in 2010, according to an AFL-CIO-released report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.

By Bruce Rolfsen  

Text of a court memorandum detailing the charges is available at