OSHA fines EB in case of injured worker

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Groton — Following a six-month investigation, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Electric Boat with a serious workplace violation for failing to properly guard an area where a newly hired shipyard employee fell more than 20 feet while pressure-washing a submarine.

The accident, which occurred May 7, seriously injured 22-year-old Tanessa Pabon, a painter who'd been on the job less than six months and still was considered a probationary employee. OSHA began investigating a day after the fall.

Pabon was pressure-washing near the sonar dome of the USS John Warner, an attack submarine based in Norfolk, Va., that was undergoing maintenance at EB, when she "stepped through an unguarded access hole and fell more than 20 feet to the lower level, sustaining serious injury," the citation from OSHA says. The citation says there was limited visibility.

EB was fined $13,260 for the violation, which says that "when employees are working in the vicinity of flush manholes and other small openings of comparable size in the deck and other working surfaces, such openings shall be suitably covered or guarded to a height of not less than 30 inches, except where the use of such guards is made impracticable by the work actually in progress."

OSHA recommended EB cover access holes with removable metal guards, or some other sort of cover.

The company negotiated a lower fine of $10,000. Jim Lally, a spokesman for OSHA, said EB was given a reduction because the company corrected the issue that occurred and the process that allowed it to happen, implemented significant upgrades to its safety and health processes, committed a large amount of resources to implement a site-specific, 30-hour OSHA training program to be taken by hundreds of employees over the next year, and in the interest of settling the case and avoiding litigation.

Lally did not provide specifics on the actions taken by EB. The Day has a pending Freedom of Information request with OSHA for that information, including the case narrative and the settlement agreement.

EB has declined comment throughout the investigation, which was closed by early November. Spokeswoman Liz Power said by email last week that the company accepted the citation from OSHA and cooperated fully during the six-month investigation.

"Safety of our employees is a top priority at EB, and we have extensive, regular training opportunities for all 17,000 employees," Power said.

Pabon, the injured employee, is on medical leave from the company. She said by email recently through her lawyer that her injuries have been improving, particularly those to her neck and spine, but her head injury still is causing issues.

"I still am dealing with issues associated with the injury including headaches, fatigue, and vertigo," she said.

Pabon was hospitalized for more than two weeks following the fall and was in a coma for three days immediately afterward. She still doesn't remember the accident.

While the number of doctor visits she has per week has decreased, she said she still sees multiple doctors a month for different checkups and spends several days a week attending physical therapy sessions.

When she fell, she landed face-down in fluid, some of which she ingested, and her lawyer, Eric Schoenberg with the Freeman Law Firm in Hartford, has said he had difficulty getting EB to take a proper sample of the fluid to be tested. He said that issue has since been resolved, and the test results have been sent to Pabon's pulmonologist to analyze to see if there are any potential health impacts associated with what she ingested.

Schoenberg is representing Pabon in her ongoing state and federal worker's compensation claims. As for whether his client is considering pursuing further legal action, Schoenberg said "we are continuing to investigate all available legal remedies in multiple forums."

Pabon, for her part, still hopes to return to work at EB one day.

"I know that due to the nature of injuries I have sustained that I may have to look into a different type of work in the future. I suppose more of a desk job than labor, but I will be looking into it more as I recover and receive a more definitive idea of my overall health," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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