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OSHA fines two area companies <br> One worker scalded, another buried alive

Kreg Parker's job required him to climb above an open tank of hot cleaning solution, until the accident March 15.

"My foot slipped off a peg and in I went," he said. "Instinct took over; I hit bottom and bounced right back out."

The accident was one of two separate on-the-job mishaps in March -- one severely burning Parker and the other killing a worker -- that have resulted in fines of $142,550 against two Buffalo-area employers.

Whiting Door Manufacturing Corp. in Akron faces $115,550 in fines following investigations into Parker's fall into a 7,000 gallon tank that lacked safety guards.

Patton Plumbing in Buffalo was fined $27,000 following the death of a worker in Hamburg when an unbraced trench caved in March 22.

The fines represent the amount that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration can levy against the companies for lapses in workplace safety, Buffalo-area director Arthur J. Dube said. The companies were also required to fix the hazardous conditions that inspectors found.

The employers may appeal the fines and dispute the agency's finding of fault.

"I feel they should get fined for what they did," said Parker, 28, his voice still raspy from a hospital breathing tube. "We would ask them many, many times to put the scaffolding back in."

Before the accident, the six-year employee said he was standing on the pegs that used to hold a metal grate, which had been removed to install parts into the machinery.

Parker, of Lockport, was in Erie County Medical Center for six months recovering from burns from the 150-degree vat of caustic solution, OSHA documents state. He was trying to unclog a jam in a coating machine from which an overhead grate had been removed, OSHA's inspection record states.

After inspections triggered by the accident, Whiting Door Manufacturing was cited for 14 safety violations at its plant at 113 Cedar St. in Akron, OSHA said.

Whiting Door is contesting the agency's finding, representative Michael Whiting said. He refused to comment further.

OSHA also announced penalties this week against Patton Plumbing in Buffalo, stemming from a cave-in that killed a worker who was replacing a sewer line at a home in Hamburg.

The employee, Charles M. Lee Jr., was working in a trench 7 1/2 feet deep when the bank collapsed on him, OSHA's inspection records state.

The agency found that the trench lacked cave-in protections, which are required in trenches deeper than 5 feet, and other workplace safety violations.

Mark Patton, identified by OSHA as the company's owner, refused to comment.

The companies may contest the penalties in a conference with agency officials. They may also appeal to the Occupational Safety Health and Review Commission, OSHA said.

Whiting Door has about 330 employees at its Akron plant, according to OSHA. The company makes roll-up doors for truck trailers.

OSHA fined the company for lapses related to Parker's injury, plus incomplete accident reporting and other violations, the agency said.

The higher penalties for Whiting Door reflect the inclusion of two "willful" violations among the 14 charges, Dube said. The two willful, or deliberate, charges had to do with the company's removal of protective grates and its refusal to provide hazard information to employees. The two charges carry penalties of $68,000, more than half the amount the company faces.

Inspectors found no willful violations of safety rules at Patton Plumbing's work site, Dube said. One $7,000 penalty for lacking cave-in protections would have carried $70,000 in fines if the violation was considered deliberate, he said.

Penalties aren't linked to the severity of injuries in an accident, or whether a safety lapse results in a fatality, Dube said.

"There's no price for a human life -- it (penalties) are on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Parker said he expects to return to work in the plant, after he is able to walk again following his lengthy hospital stay. Parker said his sole income following the accident is Workers Compensation, which doesn't entirely make up his usual pay. Compensation payments are capped at $400 a week.

"This (accident) happened a week after my son was born," said Parker, who has three children.

Parker said he and other workers on the factory's coating line frequently climbed above tanks to clear jams. "It was a daily ritual," he said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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