Workplace deaths draw fines, citations

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN
  • Updated: April 4, 2011 - 12:16 PM

Eleven Minnesota workplace fatality investigations were resolved last year after the businesses corrected safety violations and paid fines.

The companies listed were each cited for as many as nine safety violations that may have contributed to a total of 12 deaths. The citations were categorized as non-serious, serious and, in one case, willful.

The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspects most non-federal workplaces. In general, an employer is fined at least $25,000 for violations that result in a death. The fine may be reduced for small companies with an otherwise good safety record or for cases in which the victim owned or held a controlling interest in the business.

The 11 cases below took as long as eight years to close for reasons including extended payment plans and appeals of citations.

Big Boyz Truck & Tire, Motley, $26,050 fine

Last year, an employee working under a lowboy (flatbed) semitrailer was crushed when the jack stand supporting it broke.

Command Center Inc., Post Falls, Idaho, $1,500 fine and Fetzer Industries LLC, Shakopee, $25,750 fine.

A temporary worker hired by Fetzer through Command Center's Hopkins office was standing on an angled metal roof in Prior Lake in 2009. While preparing to power wash the roof, the worker slipped and fell 14 feet to the ground.

High Pressure Transports LLC, Kingfisher, Okla., $25,000 fine

Two employees died while trying to fill a truck with anhydrous ammonia at a site in Rosemount in 2009. A plume of the suffocating gas was released when a connection broke free.

Imperial Developers, Eagan, $10,450 fine

A man was crushed while working in a deep trench in South St. Paul in 2005. He was digging underneath a footing when a concrete wall collapsed.

Kraft Foods Inc., New Ulm, $25,000 fine

In 2007, while troubleshooting a running hopper, a maintenance worker was struck in the head by a rotating tine and was caught between the tine and the hopper's wall.

Plant Maintenance, Inc., Grand Rapids, Minn., $91,000 fine and Northern Industrial Erectors, doing business as Plant Maintenance, Grand Rapids, Minn., $10,500 fine

In Two Harbors in 2006, a man fell 50 feet from a scaffold on an iron ore dock after one of the support cables kinked, a stabilizing strap broke and the scaffold swung out. The man, an employee of Plant Maintenance, hit the dock and then fell into Lake Superior. The companies were cited for numerous safety violations related to the scaffold.

Peoples Electric Co., Inc., St. Paul, $25,000 fine

Two employees were adding a circuit to an electrical system in Stillwater in 2007 when one worker holding an uninsulated wrench made contact with a live 480-volt component.

Both were burned by an electrical arc flash. One worker died.

Roger Schwartz & Sons, Inc., Rose Creek, $375 fine

In Windom in 2009, a company owner was checking the progress of farm sludge being pumped into a tanker truck when he fell off the top of the vehicle.

Schoenfelder Farms LLP, Rochester, $26,750 fine

A worker died from inhaling hydrogen sulfide fumes from manure at the company's Eyota hog farm in 2010.

While one worker pumped manure from beneath a hog building, the victim went inside to check on the hogs. He was found unconscious near an exit.

Statema Backhoe Service LLC, Browerville, $3,000 fine

An owner was working on a water line in a trench in Browerville in 2009 when a large section caved in and pinned him against a wall.

Whaley Excavating, Inc., Wheaton, $25,000 fine

A man was electrocuted in 2002 when a disconnected power pole he was steadying made contact with a 7,200-volt overhead line.

Hard Data digs into public records and puts a spotlight on rule breakers in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Contact me at jfriedmann@startribune.com.

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