OSHA fines New London for safety violations at transfer station

New London — State safety inspectors have cited New London for “willful” and “serious” safety violations contributing to a hazardous work environment at the Public Works Department’s transfer station and have levied a fine of $10,800 against the city, state records show.

The Jan. 30 death of Floyd Smeeton, a longtime city resident, spurred the state department’s inspection of the transfer station. Smeeton is believed to have fallen into the trash compactor while dumping garbage at the Lewis Street facility.

The state Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Conn-OSHA) fined the city $9,000 for a willful violation of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Act. Specifically, the citation was issued for not having railings or guardrails protecting people from a fall of more than 4 feet in the trash compactor area. The maximum penalty for a willful violation is $10,000.

A violation is deemed willful when an employer has demonstrated either “an intentional disregard for the requirements of the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health,” according to Conn-OSHA.

The transfer station had previously been cited for having no railings to protect against a possible fall. During a planned inspection of the facility in March 2010, state inspectors found it to be in violation of the same regulation, according to records obtained from the Department of Labor. The violation was labeled “serious” at the time and the city was fined $210 for that violation.

“Fast forward to this particular inspection we did starting Jan. 30 ... we went out there and found an identical violation to what we found last time,” said Kenneth C. Tucker, director of Conn-OSHA. “And because they knew about the violation or the standard that applied because we previously cited it, we felt that there was a plain indifference.”

Tucker called the violation “very concerning to us” and said Conn-OSHA felt the city was “aware of the condition and didn’t prevent it from reoccurring” and displayed “little or no effort to get it corrected.”

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Public Works Director Tim Hanser did not respond to calls seeking comment Thursday. The New London Police Department has been investigating Smeeton’s death since Jan. 30, and the case remains open.

In 2010, Conn-OSHA closed the case on the transfer station based on documentation the city provided.

“In 2010, we had a statement from (the city) that it was under renovation and that that particular compactor was not in operation but guards were in place,” Tucker said. He also said that the compactor system Conn-OSHA inspected this year is different from the one inspected in 2010, believed to be the result of renovations made to the transfer station facility.

This year, Conn-OSHA inspectors also issued the city a “serious” citation for not providing a safe workplace for its employees, specifically those whose job duties put them in close proximity to the unguarded compactor pit opening. That citation carried a fine of $900.

“The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees,” Conn-OSHA inspectors wrote in the citation. “(E)mployees were exposed to crushing hazards when working around and near the compactor while it was in operation and employees were not adequately protected.”

A serious violation is “one that has the potential to either create death or physical harm to someone,” Tucker said. The maximum fine for a such a violation is $1,000.

The state also cited a serious violation, and imposed another $900 fine, for the city’s failure to “protect employees from a slip hazard caused by ice accumulation from a broken pipe at the stair entrance to the control room,” documents show.

The final violation, which did not carry a fine, was for having items stored in such a way that made a portable fire extinguisher not easily accessible.

The city has the right to contest the citations and penalties. If it does not, it must address the violations Conn-OSHA found and provide evidence to the state agency that proper corrective actions have been taken by April 28.

In the citation, Conn-OSHA suggested that the city “establish a written safety and health program regarding compactor use,” “train employees on safety related work practices around the compactor,” “determine safe and effective means of operation of the compactor ram (continuous use versus manually controlled),” and “determine a method of guarding (barrier gates) during compactor operation.”

c.young@theday.com

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