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Fines Levied in Dorm Project Death

Friday, January 9, 2015

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Federal safety authorities have fined four contractors involved in a Florida State University dorm construction project where a worker was killed last July.

The Occupational Safety Health Administration cited Tallahassee-based Miller’s Plumbing and Mechanical Inc., Culpepper Construction Company, Benchmark Erectors Inc., and Fleck Exterior Systems Inc. for willful and serious safety violations.

Travis Miller

Travis Joseph Miller, 25, of Tallahassee, was crushed by a materials elevator carriage that was not enclosed on all sides.

Proposed fines total $149,800. The citation documents are available here.

Deadly Incident

On July 28, 2014, Travis Joseph Miller, 25, was struck and crushed by a materials elevator carriage that was not enclosed on all four sides, according to OSHA and reports identifying the worker.

A lifelong resident of Tallahassee, Miller was an avid outdoorsman who lived life to the fullest, according to his obituary on Legacy.com.

He worked for Miller’s Plumbing, a subcontractor on the six-story residential project.

The investigation found that a window-frame opening in the building had been left uncovered, exposing workers to being struck by the elevator as it passed within inches of the opening, according to OSHA.

'If I would have known..."

A local report said Miller had been sitting in the open window frame talking with three coworkers when the elevator came down, pulling him into the one-and-a-half inch space between the elevator and the building, crushing his torso.

At some point during the construction project, a piece of plywood had been wedged into the window to prevent such accidents; however, that had been taken out and not replaced, The Tallahassee Democrat reported.

 “If I would have known it was off, we would have got it fixed right away,” the project's superintendent said after the incident, according to the newspaper.

"Culpepper and Miller's management acknowledged workers were exposed to a serious safety hazard, but failed to ensure all four sides adjacent to the material hoist structure were protected adequately," said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA's area director in Jacksonville.

"The employers' inaction and lack of commitment to a safe workplace has caused this tragic loss."

Willful Violations

Miller’s Plumbing and Culpepper Construction were each cited with one willful safety violation, carrying a penalty of $70,000, for not enclosing the sides of the personnel hoist.

Culpepper Construction Company

The Florida State University project includes the construction of two new residence halls. The $46 million project is expected to be complete in 2015, according to Culpepper's website.

“At the lowest landing,” OSHA writes, “the enclosure on the sides not used for exit or entrance to the structure was not enclosed to a height of at least 10 feet.”

Further, “[o]ther sides of the tower adjacent to floors or scaffold platforms were not enclosed to a height of 10 feet above the level of such floors or scaffolds.”

Neither company responded Thursday (Jan. 8) to a request for comment on the case.

Miller’s Plumbing does not have a history of safety infractions, according to a review of OSHA records.

However, OSHA records show Culpepper had a number of inspections, including a 2010 case that resulted in a $4,225 fine for two serious and one other-than-serious hazards. The fine was decreased to $2,925 following an informal settlement, the database notes.

Serious Violations

Benchmark Erectors Inc. and Fleck Exterior Systems Inc. were also cited for the same infraction; however, the agency classified those violations as “serious,” and fines were $4,900.

Florida State University
©iStock.com / benkrut

Miller’s family plans to file a $15 million wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

"We have nothing to do with that accident," David Fleck, owner of Fleck Exterior, told The Tallahassee Democrat. "We just got cited by OSHA because our guys worked in that area two weeks before the accident happened."

Miller’s family plans to file a $15 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the university.

The companies have 15 business days to comply with the citations and penalties, request a conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings.


Tagged categories: Citations; Colleges and Universities; Construction; Fatalities; OSHA; Regulations

Comment from john lienert, (1/9/2015, 8:24 AM)

$149,000.00 for murder......that's a pretty cheap get-a-way

Comment from john lienert, (1/9/2015, 8:27 AM)

shame on all of you.....that young man's PREVENTABLE death lies on the head of everyone on that job!!!!!!! safety is a all the time, everyone is involved issue.....someone removed the plywood......they must live with that

Comment from Chuck Pease, (1/9/2015, 2:48 PM)

John, Yes the fine seems insignificant for a life. Keep in mind the family will be better compensated for thru the civil suit process. But in my opinion no amount of money can make it right. Prayers to the family.

Comment from jim dolan, (1/12/2015, 1:51 PM)

John and Chuck, sometimes people need to be held accountable for their own actions. I might have missed it , but I didn't see any part of his job description that would have required him to be sitting on that window sill. Yes it's tragic, but murder?

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