Vermont Firm Contests Fine for Alleged Failure to Fix Safety Problems

July 9, 2007

A Fair Haven, Vermont slate company is appealing a $45,000 penalty issued by the state over safety violations that regulators say still weren’t addressed five months after being cited.

Shawn Camara, owner of Camara Slate Products Inc., said last week he was taking the case to Rutland Superior Court, saying the follow-up inspection in February of 2005 was inaccurate.

The company employs about 30 people and processes quarried slate into roofing, Camara said.

Camara said a state inspector “staged” photographs on his follow-up inspection, having a worker stand in front of an unused piece of equipment it wasn’t his job to use.

“That’s not true,” Stephen Monahan, director of the state workers compensation and safety division, said later. He said there was ample evidence in the case that Camara had failed to follow important state safety orders.

Worksite safety cases are based on reports by inspectors for the Vermont Department of Labor’s workplace health and safety division, called VOSHA after the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Most cases are resolved between the inspectors and worksite managers or owners, Monahan said. If that fails, cases can be brought to a hearing officer of an independent, three-member panel appointed by the governor called the VOSHA Review Board.

After a hearing officer gave him an unfavorable ruling in March, Camara asked for a follow-up review by the full board. That request was denied last week, Monahan said.

Camara agreed that his firm had three safety problems in the first inspection in September of 2004, but said they were corrected within 30 days.

At issue was whether he corrected the problems.

“There were facts to justify the violations charged, which were failure to abate serious violations at the facility,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeanne Elias, who prosecuted the case.

Monahan said that most employers fix problems when told they must do so. “It’s the first time in my memory we’ve had to bring a failure-to-abate action.”

Camara said he agreed with the initial finding that slate-cutting equipment called barrel trimmers lacked sufficient safety guards. The company replaced those trimmers, he said.

The company also bought new “lockout-tagout” equipment to comply with a finding that workers were not adequately protected from equipment that might still be energized with electricity, even if turned off.

The following February, a state inspector visited the plant unannounced, said Camara, who said he was out on a sales call and that the inspector went to the shop floor and took a picture of an unused barrel trimmer and an employee.

Camara said the employee was not a trimmer operator but instead was trained on another piece of equipment. Camara said a second photograph, described in the hearing as being of the “lockout-tagout” equipment, was inaccurate as well.


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