The owner of a Springdale, Pa., painting contracting business has been charged with criminal disregard for safety regulations, in a case stemming from the electrocution death of an employee.
U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton of the Western District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday filed a single criminal charge against Thomas C. Caruso, owner of Modern Painting & Decorating. The charge alleges that Caruso’s willful violation of safety regulations caused the electrocution of Paul Thompson, 48, of Blawnox, Pa.
Thompson died April 7, 2010, when he came in contact with a 7,500-volt power line while working on a roof and painting the outside of a building in New Kensington, Pa., authorities said.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said Thompson died as the result of Caruso’s willful violation of standards that require employers "to not permit an employee to work in close proximity to any part of an electric power circuit unless the employee is protected against electric shock by de-energizing and grounding the circuit or by insulating it."
U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh issued a summons order Caruso to appear before Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan on Aug. 7.
An individual who answered the phone at the company told D+D News Caruso was not available.
“I think he turned that over to his lawyer,” the individual said when asked about the case. He declined to identify the lawyer.
The building Thompson was working on houses the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a retail outlet selling home improvement and decorating items, according to news reports.
News reports said Thompson and a co-worker had been painting the exterior of the upper floor of the building, leaning out from the roof to spray paint along the walls near where power lines were located, a Habitat for Humanity representative said following the incident.
Caruso faces maximum penalties of no more than six months in prison, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release.
The criminal information issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Thompson died as the result of Caruso’s “willfull violation of standards set by federal regulations under 29 CFR 1926.416(a)(1) of the Code of Federal Regulations, which requires employers to not permit an employee to work in close proximity to any part of an electric power circuit unless the employee is protected against electric shock by de-energizing and grounding the circuit or by insulating it.”
The company’s website says it is a family-owned and operated business with more than 40 years of experience. The site says the company specializes in wallpaper removal and hanging, interior and exterior painting, texture painting, cabinet refinishing, power washing, and painting of a variety of elements and substrates.
OSHA Citations and Penalty
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration in October 2010 cited Modern Painting & Decorating for workplace safety violations following the fatality. The company paid OSHA penalties totaling $57,900.
The company was cited with one willful violation for permitting employees to work in proximity to energized electric power circuits. OSHA inspectors also issued two serious violations, saying the company did not provide adequate fall protection or train employees in the recognition and avoidance of fall hazards.
A willful violation is defined as one committed “with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employees’ safety and health.” A serious violation is issued if death or serious physical harm can result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists, OSHA says.
OSHA initiated an investigation on April 7, the day Thompson was electrocuted.
“The employer was aware of the existence and proximity of the overhead power lines, as well as the danger they posed to employees, yet took no action to ensure worker safety,” said Robert Szymanski, area director of OSHA’s Pittsburgh office.