Safety and OSHA News

Owner faces prison time in death of worker from fall

Federal officials have charged the owner of an asphalt plant with violation of a safety standard causing the death of an employee. If convicted, the owner could go to jail. 

Martin Romano, President of MR Asphalt Inc. of Victor, MT, pleaded not guilty to the charge. If convicted, he faces six months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana leveled the same charge against the company. It faces a $500,000 fine if convicted.

Employee William Irby Jr., 54, was checking asphalt levels from the top of a tank at the company’s facility one day in September 2012. Irby fell 15 feet, hitting his head on a concrete structure supporting the tank. Irby died from his injuries.

OSHA issued 16 citations to MR Asphalt:

  • one willful violation for failing to provide a guardrail or fall protection on the working surface
  • 13 serious violations including failing to provide training on hazardous chemicals, exposing workers to electrical hazards and leaving defective ladders in service, and
  • 2 other-than-serious violations for failing to record each work-related fatality, injury or illness and notify OSHA within eight hours of an occupational fatality.

OSHA initially issued $54,000 in fines, but the company settled for $36,500.

“By ignoring fall protection requirements, this employer showed plain indifference and intentional disregard to worker safety,” said Jeff Funke, director of OSHA’s Billings, MT, Area Office.

When criminal charges are sought

Just over a year ago, we reported on what one law firm said was now necessary for OSHA to refer a case to the U.S. Justice Department for criminal prosecution:

  • an employee fatality
  • a willful violation, and
  • the employer is alleged to have falsified documents and lied to OSHA regarding the fatality.

This case fits those requirements. The lie alleged in this case would be a lie of omission: The company didn’t report the death within the required time period and didn’t record the fatality as required by OSHA.

Criminal charges involving employee deaths are still rare, but they are becoming more common under the current administration.

Even if OSHA refers cases, the U.S. Justice Department makes the final decisions on whether to seek criminal charges against an individual and/or the company.

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Comments

  1. Rich Galutia CSP says:

    It will be interesting to see if the Department of Justice pursues this case, considering the third point needed for OSHA to refer it. I wonder if the fatality was reported late or if they never reported it and OSHA heard about the fatality in some other manner. I also am interested to see if the fact that OSHA classified the failure to record the fatality as an other than serious citation makes any difference. It seems to me that an omission of that nature, as long as the fatality was reported, even later than 8 hours, is different than falsification of records or outright lying.

  2. Edward Stern says:

    I am glad to see the U.S. Department of Justice step up to this case. It is a rare event. Some State’s Attorneys have brought negligent homicide charges in cases of outrageous recklessness and/or negligence leading to workplace deaths. There ought to be more of these state cases. A man’s falling from a height to his death is not an unforeseeable event. The Old Testament directs that you put a parapet/railing around your roof (flat roofs were used for storage), so that someone does not fall off and die. People knew this 2500 to 3000 years ago. See Deuteronomy 22:8.

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