OSHA fines Mass. firm $194k for Merrimack job

A Massachusetts company has been hit with nearly $200,000 in fines for unsafe conditions at a Merrimack work site, federal officials said.

Roberto’s Steel Erectors Inc. of Fitchburg, Mass., was cited for 17 “alleged willful, repeat and serious violations” by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The fines, totaling $194,700, were for work conditions at 30 Manchester St., where the company was building an office building for Brookstone, according to OSHA officials.

Roberto’s was fined $10,000 by OSHA last year for a Sept. 16, 2003, accident in which a worker fell to his death in a job site accident in Amherst.

“Employers have a duty to safeguard their employees against hazardous working conditions,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw said in a prepared statement. “The $194,700 in fines levied in this case reflect both the seriousness of the hazards found at this job site and our strong commitment to reducing injuries and illnesses for America’s workers.”

The phone number at the company’s Fitchburg office has been disconnected. Roberto’s was given 15 business days to request a conference with OSHA or to contest the allegations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Inspectors at OSHA’s office in Concord began examining the Manchester Street work site Feb. 13, after the agency was tipped off about fall hazards, according to OSHA officials.

The inspection found employees exposed to falls ranging from 15 feet to more than 30 feet due to lack of fall protection on the roof and open-sided decking while workers were plumbing up the structure, as well as numerous uncovered floor openings and placement of bundles of decking on unsecured joists, officials said.

These citations were classified as “willful,” the most severe category of OSHA citation, and account for $167,500 of the total fines.

Several steel erection hazards were found at this job site as well, officials said. Those included failure to stabilize structures, using girders to secure lifelines without testing their adequacy, spreading joists without anchoring them and failure to provide fall protection for workers spreading joists along the roof, among other violations, officials said.

OSHA had cited Roberto’s Steel in November 2003 for similar hazards at the Amherst job site where the fatal accident occurred.

As a result, these latest citations are classified as repeats and carry $15,200 in fines, OSHA officials said.

“The serious violations include employees riding on the elevated forks and masts of a forklift, unsecured and unmarked floor holes, improperly erected decking, unsecured bundles of joists, no eye protection, buckets of bolts not secured against falling to lower levels and no perimeter cable,” OSHA officials said.

A total of $12,000 in fines is proposed for these items.

In the Amherst accident, worker Jose Olivan, who was married with a young daughter, fell about 30 feet to his death.

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