OSHA Fines Unicco Following Fatal Mass. Window Cleaning Accident

December 9, 2005

The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Unicco Service Company for alleged willful and repeat violations of safety standards following a June 8 accident at the New England Executive Park in Burlington, Mass., that killed one worker and severely injured another. The facilities management and personnel firm faces a total of $152,500 in proposed fines.

The accident occurred during window cleaning of a four-story building. One employee was on the roof, tending a rolling outrigger suspension support unit from which a second employee was lowered to clean the windows, when the unit rolled off the roof. Both employees fell about 50 feet to the ground below and the window cleaner was also struck by the falling unit. The tender was killed; the window cleaner sustained severe injuries.

OSHA’s investigation reportedly found that the outrigger unit was not tied back to a rooftop anchorage point, was not equipped with sufficient counterweight and had improperly installed wheels. The employee tending the unit had no experience and little or no training in setting, rigging and using the unit. In addition, both employees’ lifelines were tied off to the fallen unit rather than to independent anchorage points on the roof. Tying off to an independent anchorage would have halted their fall. Finally, components of safety harnesses and a lanyard used by the workers were defective.

“This company is well aware of the requirements to protect window cleaners contained in industry standards, manufacturer instructions and its own safety program, yet chose to ignore them,” said Francis Pagliuca, OSHA’s area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. “They were cited for similar hazards following a double fatality in 2003.”

On May 15, 2003, two Unicco window cleaners were killed in a fall at a worksite at 2 Center Plaza in Boston. As a result of that accident, OSHA fined the company $23,500. For the June 2005 accident, OSHA issued two willful citations, with $140,000 in fines, for the improperly rigged and anchored outrigger suspension support unit and lifelines. A repeat citation, with a $12,500 fine, was issued for the defects in the safety harnesses and lanyard.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A repeat citation is issued when an employer has previously been cited for a substantially similar hazard and that earlier citation has become final.

Unicco has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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