Fall death brings criminal charges

A federal grand jury has indicted a steel erection contractor and a supervisor on criminal charges after the death of a worker and what the government says were lies told to federal safety inspectors after the accident.

An employee of LeMaster Steel Erectors in Elkhart, IN, fell 28 feet to his death on Aug. 9, 1997, during a metal roof decking operation. An investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that five employees were working at the edge of the roof without fall protection, so OSHA cited the company for two willful violations for lack of fall protection. The company was assessed a penalty of $140,000.

OSHA then referred the company to the U.S. Justice Department for criminal investigation, partly because inspectors reported that company representatives had lied about fall protection being used before the accident.

The indictment charges LeMaster with willfully violating fall-protection regulations at the work site in Mason, OH, and with three counts of obstruction of justice. The company's construction supervisor was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. The Justice Department alleges that the company instructed witnesses to withhold information about the lack of fall protection.

The construction supervisor pleaded guilty to the charges of obstruction of justice and is awaiting sentencing. OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress issued a statement saying that the agency "will not hesitate to refer a case to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution if we believe it's warranted."