Businesses were fined as much as $29,900 last year after investigators found workplace safety violations that resulted in nine fatalities.
A backhoe operator drowned while clearing a logjam in a swollen river. An airplane's wheel well doors closed on a maintenance worker. A logger was crushed by the tree he had just cut down.
These are among the nine Minnesota workplace fatalities that led to citations in 2011 after they were investigated by the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to reports by MNOSHA.
The agency inspects most non-federal workplaces. In general, an employer is fined at least $25,000 for violations that result in a death. Fines may be contested and reduced for small companies with an otherwise good safety record, for cases in which the victim owned or held a controlling interest in the business, or for other mitigating factors.
MNOSHA redacts personal information from its reports, but some victims were named in news reports.
1. Minnesota Department of Transportation, Mankato, $29,900 fine
Michael J. Struck, 39, of Cleveland, Minn., drowned after the backhoe he was operating slid into a flooded creek south of St. Peter in March 2011.
The department was cited for failing to ensure that the backhoe was safely situated and that Struck was wearing a life vest.
2. Pool Products, Waite Park, $28,800 fine
A worker died of carbon monoxide poisoning in April after using a gas-powered washer to clean an indoor pool at a hotel in Milaca. The carbon monoxide level was estimated by inspectors to be at least five times permissible levels.
The Mille Lacs County Times newspaper identified the worker as Robert Scheerle, 55.
Pool Products was cited for eight violations including failing to provide training and protect employees from known hazards, having no written accident-reduction program in place and failing to notify OSHA promptly.
3. Pioneer Management Associates, Minneapolis, $28,000 fine
A man constructing a bathroom in a building on University Avenue SE. in June 2010 was found lifeless at the bottom of an improperly set up stepladder.
The victim, Patrick C. Maas, 57, of Minneapolis, died of a head injury, according to Minnesota death records.
Pioneer was cited for seven violations, including electrical hazards, insufficiently guarded floor openings and failing to provide safety training.
4. Barnesville Bus Co., Barnesville, $25,900 fine
A man found pinned under a garage door in March 2011 was asphyxiated by the door's pressure on his chest. The door's safety sensor, meant to stop it from closing on buses, was located 7 feet from the floor.
The victim, Stephen J. Peterson, 51, of Barnesville was part-owner in the business, according to a Fargo Forum newspaper article.
The company was cited for failing to have a written accident-reduction program, for failing to have garage doors with "safeguards to prevent entrapment of employees" and for failing to promptly report the accident to OSHA.
5. Delta Air Lines, Atlanta, Ga., $7,000 fine
A maintenance worker, Jesse P. Stygar, 47, of Rosemount, became trapped in landing gear equipment as he closed a wheel-well door. The airplane was parked at Terminal 1 (the Lindbergh terminal) in June 2010. Stygar died of a head injury, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner's office.
Delta was cited for failing to ensure that employees used safety "pins" meant to secure well doors open.
6. Douglas County Agricultural Association, Alexandria, $2,500 fine
An employee working at the Douglas County fairgrounds in August 2010 died of brain trauma four days after falling and hitting his head while trying to use his leg to compress material in a restroom trash can. He drove himself to an emergency room the next day and was transferred by air to St. Cloud Hospital, where he died.
Minnesota death records identify the man as Myron N. Ulsager, 81, of Evansville. He died of a subdural hematoma, the records say.
The company was cited for failing to report the accident to OSHA within eight hours of the victim's death.
7. Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods Inc., Pillager, $1,250 fine
A logger felling an aspen tree at a recreational ranch near Pillager in December 2010 died when a tree he had just cut fell and pinned him across the chest. Workers cut away the 16- to 18-inch diameter trunk and lifted it off the man.
The Brainerd Dispatch identified the man as Daren Rathcke, 35, of Sebeka.
The company was cited for failing to promptly report the accident to OSHA and properly document employee participation in safety training.
8. C-Bar-J Corp., Cannon Falls, $350 fine
The driver of a flatbed truck awaiting loading at a steel company in Dodge Center in July 2010 was found unresponsive on the floor near the cab's door. The victim died three months later as a result of "a fall with head injuries."
C-Bar-J was cited for failing to have a written accident-reduction program in place.
9. Cross Country Courier, Bismarck, N.D., $350 fine
A courier failed to turn on the lights after entering the business' warehouse in Duluth in January 2010 to pick up a package. Once the door closed, it was too dark to see. The employee yelled in vain for help, fell four feet off the edge of a dock and broke a leg. He died 16 months later.
"We count it as a workplace fatality, but we can't tell for certain whether or not [the accident] caused or contributed to the fatality," said MNOSHA spokesman James Honerman.
The business was cited for failing to protect the dock with a "standard guardrail."
Hard Data digs into public records and puts a spotlight on rule breakers in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Contact me at email@example.com.
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