Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...
By Chris Marr
The deaths of three Florida utility workers from lethal gas exposure resulted in federal safety citations and proposed fines of $119,507 for their employer.
Douglas N. Higgins Inc. and a related company McKenna Contracting LLC, which do business under the name D.N. Higgins Inc., were cited for 10 serious safety violations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced July 18.
The citations stem from a Jan. 16 incident at a job site in Key Largo, Fla. The company was performing underground utility work when a pipe laying worker, Elway Gray, entered a manhole and became unresponsive. Two coworkers—laborer Louis O’Keefe and equipment operator Robert Wilson—entered the hole to assist him, but all three men died.
Two other employees and a volunteer firefighter also were injured while attempting to rescue the men. Later air testing inside the hole showed hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide were present at lethal levels, according to OSHA’s summary of the incident.
OSHA cited the company for allegedly failing to test for toxic gases, identify potential hazards, and purge or ventilate the confined space before letting workers enter. The agency also cited D.N. Higgins for allegedly failing to provide monitoring equipment, emergency and rescue equipment, and adequate training for employees.
“The hazards of working in manholes are well established, but there are ways to make it safe,” said Condell Eastmond, the OSHA area director in Fort Lauderdale, in the agency’s news release. “Three employees needlessly lost their lives and others were injured due to their employer’s failure to follow safe work practices.”
A company representative at D.N. Higgins was out of town and unavailable for comment, and an attorney reportedly representing the company didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request on July 19.
The family of at least one of the deceased workers is planning a wrongful death lawsuit against D.N. Higgins, according to attorney Marc P. Lyons of Lyons, Snyder & Collin P.A. in Plantation, Fla.
Lyons is representing the family of Robert Wilson and plans to file suit soon, as the firm has recently completed its investigation and was waiting for the final OSHA report, he said.
“The OSHA report is not a surprise to anybody,” Lyons told Bloomberg BNA on July 19. The company “completely, totally and absolutely dropped the ball with regard to safety requirements.”
Florida’s workers compensation law complicates the case against D.N. Higgins and could result in a cap on damages, he said. He added that he plans to argue for an exception to the workers comp limits on grounds that the company’s safety violations were intentional.
Lyons said he also intends to pursue the subcontractor, McKenna Contracting, as a second defendant that likely wouldn’t be shielded by the workers compensation law.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at firstname.lastname@example.org
The citations are at http://src.bna.com/qUB
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)