Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Trench Death = Manslaughter

Slowly, but sure, local prosecutors are figuring out that killing a worker in a trench or other obviously hazardous worksite is not just an "accident," it's murder -- or at least manslaughter:
A Bridgeport masonry firm owner faces a manslaughter charge in connection with the trench collapse that killed a worker last summer.

Marcio Lira, 36, of Woodside Avenue, was charged Thursday with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Ademilson Vieira, 37, of Bridgeport. Vieira, an illegal alien, was working last June 11 in an unprotected 11-foot trench at a home on Bruce Drive when a section collapsed, burying him. Fellow workers unsuccessfully tried to dig Vieira out from the rubble.

Lira was released on $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear March 13 in Derby Superior Court.

Lira is a co-owner of Edwardo Osello Masonry and Painting in Bridgeport, the firm that was repairing a retaining wall in the back yard of the Bruce Drive home.

"By definition, manslaughter is when a person's recklessness causes the death of another," said Detective Robert Kozlowsky, Shelton Police Department spokesman.
OSHA issued seven serious citations and fined the company $20,100 for the violations last November, although the company appealed and penalty for the case, which has still not been finally closed, was reduced to $14,700.

OSHA has a detailed trenching standard, which among other things, requires trenches more than five feet deep to be protected against collapse with a trench box or shoring.

My question, as usual, is: The OSHA standard is well known, so why were there no willful citations, and why not criminal prosecution by OSHA? According to OSHA, a willful citation means that there was "intentional disregard or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act."

So come on OSHA, what am I missing here?

(More on Vieira's death here.)

Far West Fined $1.77 Million for Confined Space

Meanwhile, you may remember last November, the Arizona Attorney General's office convinced a jury to find the Far West Water and Sewer Company guilty on five of the six felony charges filed against it for the deaths of James Gamble, 26, and Gary Lanser, 62, who were overcome by toxic sewage gases while working on an underground sewer tank on Oct. 24, 2001.

In January, a Yuma judge imposed $1.77 million in criminal fines against the company for negligent homicide, aggravated assault, violating a safety standard.
The fine was broken down to $500,000 for the three convictions resulting from Mr. Gamble's death and $500,000 for the two convictions resulting from Mr. Garrett's injuries, plus a surcharge of $770,000. The judge also awarded over $150,000 in restitution to Mr. Garrett and Mr. Gamble's family, which will be paid from the fine.


Witnesses for the State testified the air in the sewer tank had not been tested during the day, the workers were not properly trained, safety equipment was not available or used, and required safety and rescue procedures were not followed.