$40,000 In Citations Issued After 2 Workers Killed In Fayetteville
The U.S. Department of Labor has fined three companies associated with construction of a Fayetteville apartment complex more than $40,000, after two workers were killed earlier this year in separate incidents at the site.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has filed three citations worth $41,200 in penalties against ParkCrest Builders Group, WW Enterprises and Business Construction Services, LLC, in connection with the deaths of workers Brannon Rhine, 20, and Jess Wilson, 44.
Rhine was crushed to death while digging a trench May 5, when equipment struck a sewer line, and a hole collapsed around him. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court last month against Business Construction Services, LLC, and Parkcrest Builders, LLC. That case is pending.
Business Construction Services, a subcontractor in the construction, received a $7,600 citation from OSHA claiming the company did not adequately train its workers in the dangerous work being done at The Vue apartments, which was being built at the time. The citation also finds the company did not use systems designed to protect workers from cave-ins.
The federal agency also filed a $14,000 citation against WW Enterprises, another subcontractor, in connection with a different death at the same site a month later.
Wilson, of Joplin, was installing siding on a boom lift when police said he struck his head on a high voltage power line, which killed him.
Officials say three other workers were hospitalized in the incident.
“I think it`s a 160,000 volts, each line is 80,000 and it will jump. What I`ve been told is the safe working distance around that line is 30 feet,” said Harley Hunt, Fayetteville Fire Marshal.
The OSHA citation claims the company did not properly train workers to use aerial lifts or to work in dangerous working conditions.
ParkCrest Builders received a $19,600 citation from OSHA, saying Wilson’s death could have been prevented by safety equipment such as a guardrail or safety net. Wilson also did not wear a body belt attached to the basket he was working in, the OSHA citation notes.
ParkCrest Builders was the general contractor for The Vue construction site.
The companies associated with The Vue construction responded to the Rhine family’s wrongful death lawsuit earlier this month, saying the worker’s death is not their fault and that the man’s fiancée is not eligible for benefits because the couple was not married.
The lawsuit asks for $75,000 in damages, however that number was chosen because it is the minimum allowed for a case to enter federal court, according to the family’s attorney. Any amount of money requested or awarded will be decided at a future date.
Rhine’s family claims his death was avoidable and caused by negligence of the supervising company. Business Construction Services, LLC, responded in court documents Friday to the allegations, saying Rhine did not act in accordance with common sense safety measures.
“[T]he danger of an open trench and operating machinery was open and obvious to all,” the company’s response states. The company “pleads comparative fault on the part of the decedent for failure to exercise ordinary care for his own safety, which to bar any right of recovery herein.”
The family attorney Sach Oliver responded, “Anytime we look at one of these cases, we look at is what training is involved, what type of supervision was involved and was safety a priority.”
Documents filed by Business Construction Services seek for the lawsuit to be dismissed and denies Rhine’s pregnant fiancée at the time would be eligible for any money sought through the lawsuit. The response states the fiancée is not a beneficiary for Rhine under state law.
Attorney Oliver said he reviewed the court documents. He said attorneys will need to look into the company’s claim regarding Rhine’s fiancee, but said they can argue that Rhine’s baby girl is a beneficiary.
“I know that where the defense was coming from, but what we need to focus on is taking care of Brannon’s baby,” Oliver said.
Rhine’s fiancée Meagon Capehart gave birth to the couple’s child shortly after his death.
The company’s documents submitted were in response to a lawsuit filed by April Hicks, the administrator of Rhine’s estate. The suit claims the company is at fault for the fatal accident, stating Business Construction Services failed to hire qualified workers and failed to properly train workers, among other safety allegations.
The documents filed in federal court are the only public comment by the company on Rhine’s death. The company failed to answer several phone calls and emails inquiring about Rhine’s death and safety procedures over the last several months.
“Here several rules all laid out in the OSHA report weren’t followed, which caused the hole to collapse on a twenty-year-old man,” said Sach Oliver, a Rogers attorney representing Rhine’s family. “Brannon Rhine should not have died.”
For a case to make it to federal court, the claim has to be a minimum of $75,000, and Oliver said a jury will have the last word on the amount.
“The value of this case is yet to be determined, but one of the factors is the value of life,” Oliver said.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $7,600 fine in July to the company building the Fayetteville apartment complex.