A review commission has upheld an OSHA fine against a construction company in connection with the death of a worker. The commission says the company’s communication of the need for a rescue was insufficient.
Boh Brothers Construction Co. was building two bridges over Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.
On Dec. 23, 2008, a crane tipped over and fell onto a bridge’s guardrail.
The crane operator, Tilden Billiot, lost consciousness and remained in the cab for two to seven minutes while other Boh employees held onto the crane to prevent it from falling into the water.
After a few minutes, the unconscious worker slipped out of the cab and fell into the water.
While this was happening, a foreman used his cell phone to call the senior superintendent on the project to report the incident. The superintendent used his cell phone to place multiple calls, including one to the field project manager who was in the office trailer at the north end of the bridge, and one to another foreman, who was also working on the north side of the bridge.
By that time, the second foreman had already head about the incident from another worker. This foreman called the lead boatman for the two rescue boats in the lake. The lead boatman called the employee who was operating the other boat. That boat left for the location where Billiot fell into the water.
That second boat was between three and four miles from the scene. The boat traveled at a maximum speed of 30 m.p.h. If the boat was moving at top speed, it would take six minutes to reach the scene.
Billiot was brought to the shore where emergency personnel were waiting to take him to a local hospital. Billiot died in the hospital about a week later.
3 minutes before brain damage occurs
OSHA issued two serious citations to Boh, one for improper crane operation and one for failing to make a lifesaving boat available. The fines totaled $10,000.
Boh appealed the citations.
OSHA’s construction standard for working over or near water says, “At least one lifesaving skiff shall be immediately available at locations where employees are working over or adjacent to water.”
While the standard doesn’t define “immediately available,” a 1991 OSHA interpretation letter on the subject notes that permanent brain damage can occur in a drowning victim within three to four minutes because of oxygen deprivation.
Both sides agreed that the interpretation letter identifies factors relevant to a water rescue, including whether a lifesaving skiff could be made available in three to four minutes before permanent brain damage would occur to an unconscious employee in the water.
Billiot had remained in the water for 8 to 12 minutes.
An administrative law judge ruled Boh’s response time to the incident was prolonged by its failure to equip boats with the tyupe of radios used by its foremen that can receive an emergency broadcast channel.
Boh appealed the judge’s decision to the entire Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The company says the judge erred by disregarding the rescue boats and qualified operators it had available. OSHA argued Boh’s system lacked a means of direct communication with the available boat operators.
OSHRC didn’t see things Boh’s way. It said although Boh had a radio system in place, radios capable of receiving emergency communication weren’t provided to all qualified boat operators. Boh only issued these radios to its foremen, limiting rescue communication to cell phones.
OSHRC found Boh failed to comply with the OSHA standard because it didn’t have a lifesaving skiff “immediately available.” It also upheld the crane citation and the total $10,000 fine.
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(Secretary of Labor v. Boh Brothers Construction Co., OSHRC, No. 09-1072, 3/4/13)