OSHA Violations Result in Jail Time
Every contractor dreads an OSHA citation—fearing fines, work shutdowns, and harm to reputation. But in a recent Colorado case, a worker’s death and the related jobsite violations were seen as so egregious that the company owner is now facing ten months behind bars.
Details of the Accident
Bryan Johnson of Avon, Colorado, owner of ContractOne, Inc., had hired Rosario Martinez to do carpentry and drywall work on a site in Granby. On June 14, 2018, Martinez was working at that residential construction site and installing a water service line. However, he had not been trained for excavation or trenching work. The trench collapsed, and Martinez was fatally injured.
Other employees on-site were not training in trenching work either, and the same trench had collapsed a day earlier, with no corrective measures taken.
Following an investigation of the accident, OSHA concluded that ContractOne, Inc., failed on many counts: not using a trench protective system, not providing ladders for egress, not conducting site inspections, not placing excavated soil an adequate distance from the edges of the trench, and not using an acceptable utility location process during the trenching procedure.
OSHA Reginal Administrator Nancy Hauter noted: “Trenching is one of the most dangerous activities in the construction industry and Bryan Johnson failed to take any affirmative steps to protect employees, despite repeated warnings that work activities at the jobsite were hazardous.”
The Court Ruling
More than three years later, on July 14, 2021, Bryan Johnson was in court facing negligent homicide and felony manslaughter charges. (Earlier, he had pled guilty to one count of third-degree assault causing injury and two counts of reckless endangerment, which are misdemeanors.)
The Grand County court found him guilty of the more serious charges, and the judge sentenced him to ten months in jail. He also ordered Johnson to undergo safety training, provide OSHA inspectors no-warrant access to his jobsites, pay up to $25,000 to Martinez’s family, make charitable contributions, and serve probation for three years.
What This Means for Contractors
Severe injuries on the worksite are a tragedy for all involved, and every contractor wants to avoid them. However, it is essential to note that court judgments like that handed down to Bryan Johnson can happen in any state. In Johnson’s case, he was considered liable for the death of Rosario Martinez because his company’s site was dangerous, and he did little to correct the safety violations his company was committing. In some states, like Florida, a contractor could also face civil liability in the form of a lawsuit by the deceased worker’s family. To help protect against such claims, contractors should work with their lawyer or insurance broker to make sure they purchase appropriate insurance coverages as part of their routine business practice.
Ensuring OSHA compliance is serious business. Contractors who are unsure about their rights and responsibilities regarding safety should be sure to consult legal counsel. An experienced OSHA attorney can help review the necessary regulations and advise contractors about meeting the required standards.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.