Regulators have proposed fines of nearly $450,000.
Federal safety regulators this week cited a Minneapolis employer with several “willful” safety violations — rare and severe infractions — and proposed fines of nearly $450,000 in the electrocution of an employee.
Joseph Janisch, a 34-year-old Ellsworth resident, died in September while working for Highway Technologies Inc. on a project on Interstate 94 near Menomonie. The company was installing guard rails and signs under contract with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Janisch died after construction equipment he was using came in contact with a power line. He was survived by his wife, four children and his parents.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied six “willful” citations against Highway Technologies, and four citations for “serious” safety violations. Willful citations typically carry $70,000 fines and are issued only when regulators believe a violation is intentional, knowing or in plain indifference to safety laws.
According to OSHA’s willful citations, Highway Technologies didn’t ensure that its equipment was kept far enough from power lines, including without confirming that those power lines had been de-energized. The total proposed fine of $448,000 is significant by OSHA standards.
Highway Technologies couldn’t be reached for comment Friday morning. It can contest the citations and fines, as many companies do when flagged for OSHA violations.
Highway Technologies is based in Houston and has locations across the country, including in Duluth and Rochester. On its website, it describes itself as “the national leader in providing temporary and permanent roadway traffic safety solutions.”
OSHA has placed the entire company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which was created in 2010 to focus on “recalcitrant” employers that endanger workers through willful or repeat violations.
“We do a lot more inspections of facilities (in the severe violator program),” said Scott Allen, an OSHA spokesman. “We will have a closer eye on them for sure.”
Before the accident that claimed Janisch’s life, Highway Technologies had been inspected 10 times by OSHA since 2007, resulting in citations for nine serious violations. One of those inspections occurred after an employee had been injured by contacting a power line while installing a highway sign, according to OSHA.