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Editorial: Death in the workplace leads to $5,800 fine



Monday, November 25, 2013
Last April, a construction worker from Connecticut died in a workplace accident on King Street in Northampton. Two weeks ago, the federal government fined the construction company $5,800 for its part in the fatal accident. Some may have wondered how the government put a dollar figure to the 55-year-old worker’s life.

In fact, it’s not the role of the executive branch to make that judgment — that’s up to the courts, should Alfred Cabiya’s family pursue legal action.

The Connecticut company was cited and fined for an accident that killed Cabiya and injured two others at the state Department of Transportation site on North King Street in Northampton in April. The federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied the fine and citation against Trico Welding, a state contractor.

OSHA was created in 1970 as part of the Labor Department by Congress “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

OSHA uses guidelines when issuing workplace fines. They break down into three categories: Other Than Serious Violation, Serious Violation and Willful Violation.

The first has a suggested ceiling of a $7,000 fine with much lower fines the norm. The second has a mandatory penalty of $7,000 for each violation with lesser amounts considered depending on the company’s record. The third is the most serious and fines have been issued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to companies.

In the local accident, OSHA determined the violation was “serious” and issued its fine accordingly.

The OSHA investigation found that Trico Welding LLC of Beacon Falls, Conn., failed to provide a firm foundation for a modular building being set up for temporary office space during a remodeling job at DOT’s District 2 site near the Hatfield line.

On April 18, the two-part trailer shifted while three men were working in the modular unit, trapping them inside and killing Cabiya.

Construction work is a dangerous profession. How dangerous? OSHA notes that construction workers engage in activities that may expose them to serious hazards, such as falling from rooftops, injuries related to unguarded machinery, being struck by heavy construction equipment, suffering electrocution and being exposed to silica dust and asbestos, among other hazards.

According to an annual report published by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, 32 workers lost their lives on the job in the state in 2012, including six construction workers, five of whom died from falls. According to OSHA, 4,383 workers were killed on the job in the U.S. in 2012.

And what happens to the millions of dollars OSHA collects each year in fines? The money goes into the U.S. Treasury’s general fund and cannot be used to directly fund OSHA activities.

While it may seem strange the government profits from such accidents, rather than families, such fines do provide a basis for legal action down the road, if families are so inclined.