With one Willful and two Serious violations, OSHA has cited Pegasus Tower Co. for exposing employees to falls after a fatality at a Starkville, Mississippi, worksite. The tower erector faces $140,720 in penalties, the highest fine ever issued by the agency that involved an industry fatality.
John Wayne Womack, 43, of Mountain View, Arkansas suffered a fatal fall from a self-supporting tower while attempting to connect two sections during the erection of a 348-foot structure for Flinn Broadcasting Corporation of Memphis, Tennessee on November 16, 2019.
Wireless Estimator had identified that Womack was a 1099 contractor at the time of his death.
OSHA cited the Calico Rock, Arkansas-based company for the following violations:
Serious – $1,735
The employer failed to designate, identify, and train employees responsible for providing rescue in the event an employee falls and is left suspended, exposing the employee to suspension trauma.
Serious – $4,048
Lifelines shall be secured above the point of operation to an anchorage or structural member capable of supporting a minimum dead weight of 5,400 pounds. Employees were using the 5/8″ step bolts as anchorage points for their lanyards while climbing the tower, exposing them to fall hazards.
Willful – $134,937
The employer did not ensure employees were utilizing a means of fall protection while erecting a communications tower exposing the employees to a fall hazard.
Other-than-Serious – $0
The employer did not ensure that employees were trained to avoid and recognize fall hazards while erecting a new communications tower.
The Willful citation amount of $134,937 is the highest penalty that OSHA can issue and is seldom imposed. However, the agency might have taken into consideration Pegasus’ previous citations.
A 2001 OSHA inspection in Akron, Ohio resulted in five Serious citations and a Willful citation and one Other-than-Serious citation for a total penalty of $24,600. An administrative law judge characterized the alleged willful violation as Serious and assessed a total penalty of $16,500. It was protested and the penalty was further reduced by an OSHA Review Commission to $13,700 on July 13, 2005.
In 2004, Pegasus paid $3,000 for three Serious violations observed during the erection of a 1,300-foot guyed tower in Madison, Wisconsin.
After a July 17, 2013 accident, Pegasus received multiple citations after a tower tech was injured when he fell 50 feet in Dike, Iowa. Like Womack, the individual was a 1099 contractor.
According to Wireless Estimator’s database, the highest penalty ever paid for an incident that resulted in a fatality was $125,000 by Northeast Colorado Cellular Inc, DBA Viaero Wireless after a tower tech was killed when he fell 180 feet in 2007.
Viaero was cited for three Serious violations after investigators found that the snaphook on the tech’s positioning lanyard had been previously damaged, and he was not tied off with a fall arrest lanyard.
The average penalty issued to companies regarding an industry death since 2003 is $7,748, according to statistics analyzed by the website.
Regarding Womack’s death, OSHA Jackson Area Office Director Courtney Bohannon said, “This tragedy underscores the legal requirement to implement a safety program that effectively addresses the hazards associated with communication tower work.”
Pegasus has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Although OSHA’s Pegasus fine is the largest known in the wireless construction industry, it still pales compared to other fines issued for fall protection violations.
As an example, last June OSHA issued a citation for $1.1 million for violations on a construction project in Portland, Maine where an employee fell 20 feet to his death while he was climbing down from a roof without appropriate fall protection.