A fatality involving a forklift accident has led federal safety officials to return Lunda Construction Co., a major Midwest heavy and industrial contractor known for its work on bridges and dams, to a U.S. Dept. of Labor program that targets companies labeled “severe” safety violators.

The federal officials used especially pointed language to describe why they had placed the Black River Falls-based contractor in the program again. “Lunda has a dismal safety record,” claims Mark Hysell, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Eau Claire, Wisc., in a statement.  “OSHA will continue to monitor and inspect Lunda sites until the company does the right thing and makes worker safety a priority on its job sites.”

Officials at Lunda’s corporate office declined to comment and referred calls to an attorney. The attorney could not be reached for comment, however.

The triggering event apparently was a third fatality on a Lunda project since 2013. OSHA officials placed Lunda Construction in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program following the death of a young apprentice carpenter working on the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge between Superior, Wisc. and Duluth, Minn.

As part of the program, Lunda will face ramped up inspections by OSHA.

Fatalities have proven to be a persistent problem for construction employers during decades of generally improved performance in curtailing injuries, according to federal statistics. The Construction Industry Institute, whose members have pioneered safety programs that result in impressive injury-prevention records, is carrying out a study of what are termed low-frequency, high-impact events, most of which are likely to involve fatalities.

OSHA instituted the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) in 2010 "to more effectively focus enforcement efforts on recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees through willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations of the OSH Act." The SVEP program replaced a previous program that was deemed ineffective and the majority of SVEP's targets as of 2013 were construction employers, which OSHA considered a special problem.

Prior Construction Accidents

Lunda was previously put in the severe violator program in 2013 after a truck driver died and another worker was injured seriously in a crane collapse near Oshkosh, Wisc. In a separate incident just a few months before, a worker was struck and killed while assembling a crane on a Lunda construction site on Highway 41 near De Pere, Wisc.

Lunda, which OSHA says has about 920 employees, completed its first stint in the OSHA severe violator program in 2014, when it met the conditions for exiting the program, according to an agency spokesman.

“They were taken off because they met the criteria to be removed,” wrote Scott Allen, a spokesman for OSHA, in an email.  “OSHA can and will put a company back on the SVEP program if it relapses and does not maintain appropriate a safe and healthy workplace.”

In the most recent accident, in September, 2015, an 18-year-old carpenter’s apprentice was mixing concrete for the repaving of the Bong bridge, when the driver of a rough terrain forklift struck and killed him.

OSHA last month hit Lunda with $105,000 in proposed fines related to one willful and five serious safety violations stemming from the fatal accident.

Violations Tied to Forklift Accident

OSHA investigators reportedly found the driver of the rough-terrain forklift had medical restrictions that prohibited him from using his right hand.

In addition, OSHA claims, Lunda had not arranged for “prompt medical attention” should a serious accident occur on the project and Lunda failed to provide specific training on a rough-terrain forklift driving, allowed operators to drive vehicles at unsafe speeds too close to employees near fixed objects.