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City, MOSH reach settlement in worker's death

March 11, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

City, MOSH reach settlement in worker's death

The City of Hagerstown has reached a settlement with a safety regulatory agency on citations from last year's accident in which a City Light worker died.

Under the settlement, the most serious of the 10 alleged violations in four citations to the city was downgraded from "willful" to "serious."

The settlement also called for rescinding three "serious" violations. Four "serious" violations were sustained.

Ronald L. "Beaner" Jones Jr., 34, died March 6, 1997, after he was thrown from a cherry picker as he and four other City Light crew members were removing a transformer from a utility pole at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds.

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The winch snapped, causing the cherry picker's bucket to bounce, and Jones, an apprentice lineman, was thrown out. He fell about 30 feet, striking his head on the back of the city's bucket truck.

The worker's father, Ronald L. Jones Sr., questioned how a settlement could be reached without a hearing.

"You're talking about a boy's life. You're not talking about a piece of paper," Jones said. "I just don't like the way that worked."

Jones said family members went to Baltimore on Jan. 26 to attend a scheduled hearing of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Program (MOSH), only to find it had been canceled.

City Personnel Manager Eric Marburger said that hearing before an administrative law judge was canceled because city and MOSH officials agreed to craft a settlement.

The city and MOSH on July 10, 1997, held an informal conference that was closed to the public, including the Jones family, Marburger said.

Keith L. Goddard, assistant commissioner for occupational safety and health, said a hearing is not required in such cases because the matter is between an employer and MOSH.

The family can file a Freedom of Information Act request for information MOSH has on the matter, he said.

MOSH originally said the city, as the employer, willfully violated regulations because Ronald L. Jones Jr. was not wearing a safety belt in the cherry picker.

Jones said he didn't think it was right for MOSH to downgrade the "willful" violation to "serious."

Goddard said he did not have settlement details available Wednesday and could not explain why the violation was downgraded.

The city can't be fined for the state violations because it is a public employer, Goddard said.

While the settlement has no practical effect for the city, it was important to city officials that the "willful" violation be downgraded because the absence of a safety belt was not a willful violation on the part of the city, Marburger said.

Since the accident, line workers have been given full-body harnesses, said City Light Manager Terry Weaver. Inspections are done to ensure workers use them.

Weaver said he hasn't determined whether truck equipment failed during the accident.

All three "serious" violations were related to City Light workers not being included in the city's first-aid training for exposure to blood-borne pathogens.

Marburger said city officials didn't think line workers were subject to that requirement since they are not expected to come into regular contact with blood-borne pathogens.

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