Michigan's OSHA fines companies $107,000 for scaffold-related death

By Lindsey Anderson14 May 2012

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has fined four companies a total of $107,000 in the January death of a man who fell while working on a bridge.

According to sources, Seaway Painting LLC of Livonia, MI; Walter Toebe Construction Co. of Wixom, MI; Rauhorn Electric Inc. of Macomb Township, MI; and Soil and Materials Engineers Inc. of Plymouth Township, MI were found to be negligent in their responsibilities, which led to the Jan. 11 death of 28-year-old Kent Morton. Morton worked for Seaway Painting.

Kent Morton fell into the Detroit River while working on the Ambassador Bridge in January. MIOSHA said suspended scaffolding under the bridge wasn't erected correctly and the right process for erecting and dismantling the scaffolding wasn't followed. Also, Morton wasn't wearing a safety harness.

According to the report, three workers were moving a row of scaffold deck when one of the three cables supporting a deck shifted unexpectedly, causing one end of the suspended scaffold to tilt down. The two remaining cables also shifted and caused the deck to shift into a nearly vertical position and Morton to fall 140 feet into the Detroit River.

Morton was swept underwater and his body was not found for another two months.

The penalties include: $67,000 to Seaway Painting, $28,700 to Walter Toebe Construction, $8,900 to Rauhorn Electric and $3,300 to Soil and Materials Engineers.

MIOSHA's Construction Safety and Health Division listed the following failures:

Seaway and Toebe did not erect the suspended scaffold in accordance with the design.

Seaway and Toebe did not follow the procedures for erecting and dismantling the suspended scaffold as outlined by the scaffolding manufacturer.

Seaway and Toebe did not ensure that employees were protected from falling while dismantling the scaffold.

Seaway and Toebe did not protect employees with a personal fall arrest system while dismantling the scaffold. Morton fell nearly 140 feet into the Detroit River, which is 40 feet deep at that point.

Seaway allowed employees to dismantle the scaffold without any lifesaving boats or ring buoys available at the location.

Rauhorn Electric was found guilty of exposing employees to three electrical hazards unrelated to the fatality; Soil and Materials failed to provide quality assurance for the work being done through the absence of a safety boat or life rings at the location.

According to MIOSHA, the companies have 15 working days from the time the citations are received to comply with or contest the violations and penalties.

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