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Bridge painters will contest fines

A local company is contesting charges that it exposed employees to potentially fatal fall hazards at a New Jersey bridge project.

Damalos & Sons, 204 Tarpon Industrial Drive, recently sent a short letter to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to say the company is appealing OSHA's charges. Representatives from the company and OSHA will have a telephone conference May 25 to discuss a possible settlement, said Mike Yarnell, assistant area director of OSHA in central New Jersey.

Last month, OSHA cited the sandblasting and bridge painting company for 14 violations. The agency said Damalos employees worked on suspended platforms 40 feet above the Rahway River in New Jersey without safety harnesses.

OSHA has proposed $441,000 in penalties for not providing personal fall-arrest systems for employees. The agency proposed fines of $9,000 for fall protection, scaffolding and highway barricade violations, and $6,000 for not having a life-saving boat available for employees working over water.

The company also was cited for the life-saving boat violation in May 1998 at a work site in Decatur, Ala., OSHA officials said.

Representatives from Damalos & Sons did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Yarnell said the company's violations were so significant that they were reviewed by "the highest levels in our agency."

"We don't have a lot of these kinds of cases," he said.

If settlement talks are not successful, he said, the case could go to trial.

Prior to the latest charges, OSHA had cited the company for 86 violations.

In December, Damalos Inc. and Damalos & Sons entered a plea agreement with the federal government to pay $500,000 in fines stemming from two regulatory cases and a federal criminal charge that the company filed false lab reports of workers' blood lead levels. A joint OSHA-FBI investigation revealed that test results for five workers had been altered by an associate of the company.

The altered reports made it seem that the blood lead level of five workers was below federal standards, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. In reality, federal officials said, one worker's blood level exceeded the lead standard by more than 75 percent.

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