Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has levied $31,000 in fines on two contractors whose irresponsible conduct led to the deaths of two workers at a music festival in Happy Valley in the summer of 2019, according to The Oregonian.
The paper reports that the two men “were up in a boom lift taking down a shade installation (when) the lift, which was on an incline, tilted and fell.” Both were wearing safety gear, the paper reports, but that did little to help them considering the shockingly long list of standard precautions that their employers failed to take.
“OSHA said two alarm devices on the boom lift had been disabled, one of which would have alerted users that the machine was on uneven terrain. The other would have stopped the platform from moving upward if an employee became pinned between the platform and something overhead. Each company was fined $12,000 for disabling the alarms,” according to the newspaper. One of the two companies was given an additional fine “for not following the instructions provided by the boom lift manufacturer – including not raising the lift while on an uneven surface, maintaining a firm footing on the platform’s floor at all times and not putting the lift in a raised position while the counterweight, used for balance, was on the downward side of the slope.”
In other words: the contractors used this heavy machinery in ways the manufacturer specifically advises against, and disabled a built-in alarm system that might have prevented them from doing so. While OSHA is to be commended for imposing a degree of official accountability on the two companies, the sheer irresponsibility of the contractors’ actions leaves one to wonder whether $31,000 in fines is remotely enough to deter them from doing something like this again.
The newspaper’s account of the OSHA decision does not address the question of whether these fatalities meet Oregon’s standards for wrongful death under ORS 30.020, though the facts of the case seem to be quite clear that they do. In addition, a state supreme court doctrine known as the Kilminster standard should lead us to ask whether the music festival itself share legal responsibility for these men’s deaths. Notably, The Oregonian reports that OSHA says both companies have “a history of failing to follow proper safety procedures.” Surely that is a record that the festival ought to have taken into account before hiring either contractor.
Kilminster refers to Kilminster v Day Management Corp (323 Or. 618), a 1996 ruling in which the Oregon Supreme Court held that workman’s compensation laws cannot protect an employer whose negligence results in a worker’s death or serious injury. Oregon’s definition of industrial accidents would clearly extend that responsibility to the parent company in charge of putting on the music festival.
As a Portland attorney who specializes in helping families cope with the consequences of other people’s negligence I hope that the workers’ loved ones will consider their options carefully. Oregon law creates a chain of responsibility in situations like this, and it is important that we think carefully about exactly who is responsible in the wake of this kind of fatal tragedy.
Justia.com: Kilminster v Day Management Corp (323 Or. 618)