A South Dakota dealership has lost its bid to overturn a $20,000 OSHA penalty stemming from an employee's on-the-job death.
A federal appeals court unanimously upheld a U.S. Labor Department finding that McKie Ford Inc. of Rapid City willfully violated its legal duty to provide a safe work place.
The citation followed an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In October 1996, Don Biegler, a parts department employee, was killed when his head was caught in a shear point of a freight elevator. Employees often used the elevator, designed to transport freight, rather than taking the stairs, the investigation showed.
An 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in St. Louis found sufficient evidence to uphold McKie's liability for the violation.
For example, the configuration of the elevator and the lack of safety features such as a door, gate or interlock on the open side made 'the risk plainly obvious,' the court said in an opinion by Judge Richard Arnold.
'There is substantial evidence that McKie's conduct demonstrated plain indifference. It had no meaningful safety program,' the court said.
The court noted that another employee had been injured in a similar incident when his right hand had gotten caught in the same elevator. 'Despite this prior accident, employees kept riding the freight elevator for years,' it added. 'The company did nothing of substance to prevent this dangerous practice.'
Charles James, the Labor Department lawyer who argued the case, said a willful violation 'means it involves a high degree of employer knowledge. The primary point is that anytime they have a freight elevator that's not designed for employee use, they have to make sure employees don't use it.'
James said McKie did not receive an OSHA citation for the previous accident.
The dealership's lawyer, Tim-othy Thomas of Rapid City, declined to comment on the case.