The June 21 death of a paving worker that led federal regulators to slap a Clarksburg company with a federal citation this week marked the region’s first heat-stress violation this year.
LH Mussers & Sons, a family-owned paving company, has been cited by federal officials and faces a $6,900 fine after a man died after working in the heat on a Washington, D.C., job. The mercury in Washington hit 99 degrees that day, according to National Weather Service records.
An average of 30 workers have died annually in the U.S. since 2003 from heat stroke, according to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration,. which issued the citation and proposed fine.
“Thousands of outdoor workers also become ill each year from the effects of heat,” OSHA spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins wrote in an email to The Gazette. She added that hotter summer weather in recent years has not resulted in more heat-related violations.
OSHA has cited LH Musser & Sons for one “serious” violation of the department’s general duty clause for the incident. A man doing paving work for the company in the parking lot of Grace Lutheran Church in Northwest Washington became ill from heat stress and was taken to a hospital, where he died on June 21, according to a news release from the agency.
“It’s nothing but harassment as far as I’m concerned,” company co-owner Larry Musser Sr. said of the citation and proposed fine.
The man who died was a previous employee of the company but was not officially working for LH Musser at the time, said Musser, who owns the company with his three sons and daughter.
He said the man, whom he referred to as “Jay,” has been a friend of one of his sons and the family. Musser said he did not know the man’s full name. OSHA did not release the man’s name.
Musser said Jay was just coming along with the company crew to put in some time.
“We never did anything wrong,” Musser said Tuesday, adding that he, who is 78, also was out in the heat with Jay for four hours that day. Jay’s age was unavailable.
LH Musser’s violation involves failing to provide a program addressing heat-related hazards in the workplace, according to the agency.
The company failed to maintain a work/rest regimen; train employees on recognizing signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and methods of prevention; and ensure employees consumed enough water, according to OSHA. The agency said it issues “serious” violations when “there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”
“This tragedy underscores the need for employers to ensure that workers have frequent access to water, rest and shade to prevent heat illness and injuries during the hot summer months, and also why it is important that workers are trained to recognize and respond to the signs of heat-related illness,” Robert Szymanski, acting director of the agency’s Baltimore-Washington area office, said in a statement.
Some states, such as California, have specific regulations to protect workers from extreme heat, Hawkins said. Industries whose workers are most exposed to heat stress include agriculture; building, road and other construction; plus utilities, baggage handlers, roofers and landscapers, Hawkins said.
Outside of this region, OSHA has issued four citations regarding extreme heat this year, three of which were linked to fatalities, she said.
For this reason, OSHA has a campaign to prevent deaths and illness from extreme heat. The agency lacks a comparable campaign for cold-related stress, but its website provides educational information.
LH Musser also was cited for one “other-than-serious” violation for failing to report the fatality to the agency within eight hours.
The company faces a fine of $6,900 and has 15 days from receipt of the citation to comply; request an informal conference with the agency’s area director; or contest the finding before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Musser said he is going to meet with the area director to decide how to proceed.
“If they pursue it, I will have to go talk to a lawyer for help since I haven’t got money like that,” he said.