Columbia OSHA fines reduced after agreement reached

Columbia OSHA fines reduced after agreement reached

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Fines against two City of Columbia departments were reduced by more than half after an employee died earlier this year while working.

The City's Public Safety and Public Utilities departments were fined a combined $12,000 after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's investigation discovered mishaps after Marvis Myers died Feb. 6. Now, the City and the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reached a settlement agreement. The City now owes $5,500 in fines and has to show documentation supporting changes in these departments.

Myers, 31, and another employee were working in a 7-foot wide, 22-foot long trench at the corner of Pulaski and College streets in Columbia to repair a sewer main line. Myers was using a shovel to spread out gravel stones under the sewer line, which was cracked and seeping sewage into the ground. When Myers was walking in the trench to a ladder, the side of the trench wall caved-in, pinning him against the other trench wall, according to an investigative summary from OSHA.

Myers was surrounded with the dirt from his chest to his feet, and a 4-inch thick piece of asphalt also fell on his back. He later died at Palmetto Health Richland from injuries sustained in the accident.

OSHA gave the Public Safety Department two serious violations, totaling $2,000 in fines, for failing to furnish a place of employment that is free of hazards that may cause death or serious harm. These violations were combined into one and the fine was amended to $500.

The employer also has to provide hands-on training for employee rescue procedures involving confined space excavations and ensure that all probes are included for multi-gas testers to allow for testing from outside an excavation.

The Public Utilities department was given four serious violations, totaling $10,000. These were for not testing the atmosphere before employees entered the trench since there could be an oxygen deficiency; not protecting employees from materials that could pose a risk of falling; and failing to remove employees from a hazardous area until necessary precautions were taken to ensure safety; and for not protecting each employee from cave-ins by using a protection system.

These violations were cut in half to $5,000. The City has to also hire an outside consultant to do an analyses of the utilities department and revise the safety plan accordingly.

"S.C. OSHA's mission is to protect workers," said Lesia Kudelka, SCLLR spokeswoman in a statement to WIS. "In determining whether to reduce a penalty, S.C. OSHA considers the employer's safety history and willingness to provide additional safety training for its employees beyond what S.C. OSHA can require them to provide."

Kudelka added that violations must be corrected regardless of the amount of the penalties.

"The death of Mr. Marvis Myers was tragic and has affected the City of Columbia family tremendously," said Columbia's Human Resources Director Pamela Benjamin in a statement to WIS. "We acknowledge receipt of the recent violations/fines issued against the City of Columbia Public Safety (Columbia/Richland Fire Department) and City of Columbia Public Utilities departments as a result of the OSHA investigation regarding Mr. Myers. It should be noted that, as a result of an informal conference conducted by SCLLR, fines issued against the City of Columbia were reduced or eliminated."

As of this report, the City has not paid the fines.

Copyright 2015 WIS. All rights reserved.