Not only is this a bizarre OSHA fine, it could set a dangerous precedent. The agency has fined a company for an employee’s fatal injury that happened while he was away from his home office on assignment.
Buffalo News sportswriter Tom Borrelli fell while climbing a steep set of stairs on Nov. 8, 2008, at Buffalo’s All High Stadium where he was covering a football game.
Borrelli was trying to enter the stadium’s press box. To get there, reporters have to climb 13 steep metal stairs, prop open a hatch and walk across an unprotected walkway on the stadium roof.
Borrelli apparently hit his head at the top of the stairs and fell down them.
The reporter was paralyzed from the neck down after the fall and died of his injuries 12 days later.
Now OSHA has issued a fine — not against Buffalo public schools, but against the newspaper for sending Borrelli to cover the game. Total fine: $31,500.
OSHA found that:
- fixed stairways were less than 22 inches wide
- fixed stairs were installed at an angle to the horizontal greater than 50 degrees
- stair railings and handrails were not installed according to regulation; instead there was a single pipe-rail 26 inches above the stair tread
- fixed stairs did not have at least 7 feet of vertical clearance between the stair treads and the overhead obstructions, and
- a side-hinged door was not used at the top of the stairs; instead, there was a hatchway.
Obviously, the newspaper had no control over any of that. So what’s the reasoning behind fining the newspaper?
“Reporters were exposed to the hazards of falls and head injuries whenever they used the press box,” said Arthur Dube, regional director of OSHA’s Buffalo office.
“The newspaper was aware of these conditions. [It] should have prevented the reporters from using the stairs and the press box until they were corrected,” Dube said.
Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan called OSHA’s fine “illogical.”
She notes that reporters are sent into all sorts of situations, including covering wars, that newspapers can’t control.
A lawyer for Borrelli’s family says a lawsuit against the school district is pending. The family says it has no intention of suing the newspaper because Borrelli was just performing the job he loved on the day of his fatal injury.
The school district has been cited with serious violations by the state and is under order to repair the stairs by July.
Reporters aren’t the only workers who are sent to conduct their jobs off-site. All sorts of contractors and repair people do this every day, as do salespeople.
Imagine being fined by OSHA because your employee suffered a work injury that didn’t happen on your property.
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