Buzzi Unicem Found Liable for Employee Drowning

Ed. note: Updated on Aug. 25 with Buzzi Unicem statement

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined that Buzzi Unicem USA could have prevented an employee from drowning after falling from a barge into the Mississippi River in February.

The fatal accident occurred when three employees of River Cement Sales Co., doing business as Buzzi Unicem USA, boarded a barge without wearing personal floatation devices. Shortly after climbing to a second deck to repair a blocked valve, one of the workers fell head-first into the river from the barge’s side. Their remains weren’t recovered until nearly a month later.

OSHA’s inspectors identified five serious violations by Buzzi Unicem, including: failure to make sure employees wore personal flotation devices when exposed to drowning hazards; failure to install guardrails to protect workers from falling into the water; failure to train employees in first aid; and failure to install an eyewash station. 

“Buzzi Unicem USA could have prevented this tragedy by making sure employees wore the personal protective equipment that was readily available,” said OSHA Area Office Director Courtney Bohannon in Jackson, Miss. “Employers have a legal responsibility to provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. This employer’s failures cost a worker his life and leaves family, friends, and loved ones with an unfillable void in their own lives.”

Buzzi Unicem released the following statement in regards to OSHA’s citations: “[The] company disagrees with the assertions and conclusions reached by OSHA for certain [aspects] of the citations, and in particular with respect to the citations alleging violations regarding personal floatation devices and guardrails. Moreover, the company objects to any characterization by OSHA that the citations are a final determination that the company violated any OSHA regulation or caused the death of our valued employee. The company strongly contends that it did not violate the regulations set forth in the citations regarding personal floatation devices and guardrails, and therefore timely filed notice with OSHA that it is contesting the alleged violations contained in those citations (as well as certain aspects of the other citations).” 

The company faces $62,500 in proposed penalties.

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