Death leads to $15,000 fine

Published 11:33 am Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Iowa Safety and Health Administration has determined that improper work practices did contribute to the work-related death of an Austin resident at an ethanol plant in February, and cited and fined the Minnesota-based construction company responsible.

Fagen Engineering L.L.C., of Granite Falls, must pay $15,000 or contest the findings, which outlined three “serious” violations implicated in the death of 56-year-old Kenneth Sterling, a Fagen employee working on a construction project at Absolute Energy just south of Lyle in Iowa.

“OSHA is not determining culpability,” Iowa OSHA administrator Mary Bryant wrote in an e-mail. “We are, however, saying that we believe violations of the OSHA standards contributed to Mr. Sterling’s death.”

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Sterling died Feb. 22 from injuries after he was lodged between a manlift and a ceiling beam.

According to an IOSH letter, addressed to Fagen April 24, the firm put their employee at risk by failing to test lift controls of boom platforms each day prior to use; not ensuring the boom platform had both functional and available upper and lower controls; and neglecting to provide proper training to the lift operator.

Of the third, IOSH states, “The employer did not have each employee who is involved in erecting, disassembling, moving, operating, maintaining, repairing or inspecting a scaffold trained by an competent person to recognize any hazards associated with the work in question.”

This, in turn, meant the operators were not knowledgeable of operations or controls, emergency situations, proper placement or safety guidelines, the letter, signed by Bryant, said.

Each violation resulted in a $5,000 fine, and demands corrective action. Fagen, unless it contests the findings, must resolve the first two issues by May 20, and the third by June 11.

The company, which specializes in agri-industry, energy and food-processing plant work, has 15 working days to request an informal conference to further discuss penalties or challenge violations all together. Thus far, Fagen hasn’t done either, Bryant said.

According to Bryant, investigations, which concluded April 11, included interviews with staff and company officials.

The fines incurred are based on multiple factors, including the size of the company, its violation history, good faith efforts on behalf of work-place safety and the gravity of the infractions.

Penalties are capped at $7,000 each.

Bryant said the company must provide evidence of violation abatement once it occurs.

Calls to Absolute Energy and Fagen Inc. were not immediately returned.

According the Mitchell County Sheriff Curt Younker, the call regarding the accident came to his office at 9:42 a.m. Feb. 22. Lyle First Responders pronounced him dead at the scene.