Image Courtesy OSHA
Crane operators repeatedly checked the "Repair" box for cables and resulted to using exclamation points to alert superiors of the need for repairs. They continued to operate it until the boom cable broke more than a month after this daily report. (Click to enlarge)

A federal administrative law judge has upheld “willful violation” of workplace safety laws at a Tennessee construction site and increased the fine against Mountain States Contractors LLC to $60,000.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration initially levied a $56,000 fine after a crane collapsed after its main boom cable broke at bridge replacement job on SR 109 over the Cumberland River near Gallatin, Tenn.

OSHA charged Mountain States with willful, serious and other-than-serious violations in late 2013, charging $60,900 in fines -- $56,000 for the willful violation -- and the company appealed.

“The pass-the-buck mentality exhibited by [Mountain States] management does not illustrate the sort of good faith that Commission precedent indicates would warrant a reduction in penalty,” Judge Patrick B. Augustine wrote April 13.

His decision went on to say: “…in light of the foregoing discussion as to the total institutional failure to comply with the Act and that four supervisors were vested with the authority to correct any deficiency but chose not to, the Court hereby assesses a fine of $60,000.”

The company, he wrote, “was fortunate that nobody died as a result of it conscious disregard” of OSHA requirements.

“For a period of almost four months, one cable or another met the criteria under which it should have been removed from service. This speaks not only to the hazard’s duration, but also to the [company's lack of] good faith  in addressing such hazards.”

Calling the violation one “of high gravity, high severity and greater probability,” he said the company’s “failure to adequately monitor and respond to cable deficiencies exposed its employees to the very real hazard of a crane collapse.”

The boom cable on a barge-mounted Terex HC 165 crane snapped May 21, 2013, and the crane fell to the highway, damaging a passing car but not causing any injuries.

The problem dates from Feb. 19, 2013, when Aaron Hutchins, a crane operator, filled out a daily inspection form kept in the crane cab, noting “the auxiliary cable needed to be replaced,” Augustine wrote. “Additionally, for the cable spool and winch he marked the ‘Repair’ box, which, according to the form, means that the ‘item needs to be repaired before further operation.’ At this time, Hutchins testified that he believed the auxiliary cable met the out-of-service criteria.”
Hutchins and other crane operators repeated the repair needs in February, March and April, when Hutchins started adding exclamation points to the log.