A tree removal company must pay more than $66,000 for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act after one of its workers died in a woodchipper.
In Secretary of Labor v. Watson d/b/a Countryside Tree Service, an administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission affirmed four in a final decision released Thursday.
On May 4, 2016, a five-person crew employed by Schenectady, New York-based Countryside Tree Services, owned by Tony Watson, was removing trees in a residential area when a worker — who was on his first day on the job — was ensnared in a woodchipper and killed. There were no witnesses to the accident, court papers say.
A U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration inspector issued one willful and four serious citations on Nov. 6, 2016, with proposed penalties of $141,811. The investigator reviewed video from the day, noting that the experienced workers on the crew used unsafe practices when feeding branches into the woodchipper, court papers say.
The inspector also alleged employees were exposed to rotating blades while feeding tree limbs into the woodchipper, the company failed to train workers in the safe operation of the chippers and that employees failed to wear proper personal protective equipment.
Mr. Watson appealed the citations, but an administrative law judge affirmed the citations and penalties. Regarding the first serious citation, the administrative judge noted in the decision that the workers were operating chain saws without wearing: leg protection, which exposed them to lacerations and amputation hazards; eye protection, which exposed them to wood dust and flying wood pieces; and protective helmets, which expose them to struck-by hazards from falling limbs.
In addition, the workers did not have personal protective equipment training, he said.
The judge also held that the investigator presented sufficient evidence that the company violated OSHA’s general duty clause by failing to ensure that only employees trained in the safe operation of chippers operated them.
The judge found that the hazard presented by the chipper was “obvious and glaring” and that Mr. Watson failed to offer any explanation as to how a new employee was permitted to operate the woodchipper.
The judge also found that Mr. Watson had “actual knowledge” that his new employees did not have adequate training or experience in chipper operation yet were permitted to feed branches into the running chipper.
The judge did, however, chose not to assess the maximum available penalty based on the size of the business, finding that a reduction of 60% to the gravity-based penalty for the serious willful violation was appropriate. The judge affirmed the PPE violations penalty, bringing the assessed penalty total to $66,986.