The biggest monetary penalty issued against a construction employer in 2004 was a $653,500 fine proposed by federal safety officials against Modern Continental Construction Co., the Cambridge, Mass.-based contractor that recently merged with another Boston-area firm after struggling through financial problems.

Modern Continental subsequently negotiated with OSHA and the penalty was cut to $371,000.

The penalty proposed against Modern Continental was also the biggest issued to any employer in 2004, according to Safety & Health, a publication of the National Safety Council.

OSHA's investigation wasn't triggered by a fatality but a fall and several anonymous complaints. The violations involved several water and sewer line construction site in Middlesex County, Mass.

Among the violations OSHA says it found were failure to protect against falls and trench cave-ins and drowning hazards. Four of the citations were considered willful in the original penalty.