Sunday, April 16, 2006

Construction Company Owner Sentenced to Home Arrest For Willful Trench Death Of Worker

And speaking of justifiable anger (see below), the June 2004 death of William Partin really pissed me off. Partin was crushed to death when a 12 foot deep trench collapse on top of him in June 2004. OSHA requires trenches more than 5-feet deep to be protected by a trench box or shoring. It was a totally unnecessary, preventable tragedy, but nothing too unusual; workers are killed in trench collapses a couple of times a week.

But this one was particuarly tragic because there was a trench box sitting about 100 yards away from the accident site and the township's quality-control inspector has made repeated suggestions to workers and company officials to use the trench box. There had also been another trench collapse two weeks before Partin was killed.

OSHA took this case more seriously than most, at least initially, finding seven willful violations and fining the company $382,875, which was the largest fine for a trench collapse ever issued in Pennsylvania (although it was later reduced to $100,000). Then last October, the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh charged Partin's employer, Glen Wagner and Wagner Excavation Services, with willful violation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

Wagner pleaded guilty the following week, but reached a plea agreement with the prosecutor, promising that he and his company would each pay a fine of $25,000 and restitution to the victim's family under terms set by the court. Prior to the plea agreement, Wagner had faced up to six months in jail, $250,000 in fines and a year of probation for the misdemeanor charge.

Earlier this week, Wagner was sentenced to three years' probation, six months home arrest and fined $25,000. Wagner and his company will also pay $100,000 in OSHApenalties, a reduction from the original $382,875.

What I said when the plea agreement was announced is still true:
I obviously don't know any of the details of this case, but what's the point of filing criminal charges if you're going to let the guy off with another $25,000? If the case is weak, why bother filing charges in the first place, and if it's a strong case, why settle a few days later for a fraction of the possible penalty?

Is this supposed to be an effective lesson for workpace killers?
I mean, with a trench box sitting next to the site, with warnings by the quality control inspector, and a trench more than two times as deep as it should have been, you can't have a more "willful" citation.