A Pittsburgh-area painting contractor has pleaded guilty to a willful violation of federal safety rules that resulted in the death of an employee.
Thomas C. Caruso’s warning to new painter Paul Thompson to be “extra careful” around exposed high-power lines did not constitute appropriate safety training before Thompson started working around the lines, authorities said.
Modern Painting & Decorating
|Officials said Modern Painting failed, with fatal results, to train a new painter. The family-owned firm is more than 40 years old.|
As a result, Caruso, owner of Modern Painting & Decorating, of Springdale, PA, was responsible for Thompson’s electrocution while painting a Habitat for Humanity building in 2010, authorities said.
Caruso pleaded guilty Thursday (Oct. 25) in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh and was sentenced to one year of probation on the violation, U.S. Attorney David J Hickton announced.
The case dates to 2008, when Modern Painting was hired to paint the Habitat for Humanity building in New Kensington, PA. The building is about 30 feet tall, and a parapet wall adds 18 inches in height.
The power line ran along the front of the building, within two feet of the structure and about the same height—close enough for someone on the roof to “easily” grab the line, said the FBI, which investigated the case with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
When the job began in 2008, the power company had put protective sleeves on the lines. However, authorities said, Caruso did not finish all of the job at that time. By the time he returned to complete the work in the spring of 2010, the sleeves had been removed.
Warnings, Not Training
When it came time to complete the work, authorities said, Caruso gave the job to Thompson, 48, who had just been released from prison after serving a 20-year sentence.
Authorities said Thompson had “worked for Caruso in various capacities” before he went to prison. Caruso told Thompson to paint the upper third of the building’s exterior.
“At that time, Caruso knew that overhead energized power lines were ‘very close’ to where Thompson would be painting,” the FBI said in a statement. “Caruso told Thompson that the lines were ‘very dangerous’ and that he would have to be ‘extra careful’ around the lines.”
Otherwise, Thompson received no training and no protection, authorities said.
In trying to paint the top of the building front, Thompson worked from the flat roof, reaching down over the parapet wall with a roller attached to a fiberglass extension pole. When the pole touched the power lines, Thompson was electrocuted.
In October 2010, OSHA cited Modern Painting for one willful and two serious violations in the accident. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to, or intentional disregard for, employees’ safety and health.
The company has not commented in the case, and Caruso did not respond Friday (Oct. 26) to a request for comment.
OSHA’s area director said at the time: “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.”