Company challenges OSHA fines after worker falls to death from Natchez barge
Published 10:17 pm Friday, August 25, 2023
A company operating in Natchez is challenging fines and citations issued by OSHA in the wake of an employee death in February.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a report on Aug. 17 citing safety violations at the Buzzi Unicem USA facility in Natchez and cited $62,500 in penalties against the company.
“The Company disagrees with the assertations and conclusions reached by OSHA for certain of the citations, and in particular with respect to the citations alleging violations regarding personal flotation devices and guardrails,” a company statement reads. “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.”
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Donny Mitchell, 50, of Clayton, Louisiana, fell into the Mississippi River at about 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 8. He was on a barge at the time and was attempting to climb a ladder onto a walkway at the Buzzi Unicem terminal on L.E. Berry Road in Natchez. Rescuers searched for several days before calling off the efforts. Mitchell’s body was recovered from the Mississippi River on March 14.
According to reports, OSHA concluded the company’s negligence placed three of its workers at risk of drowning, particularly due to the absence of mandated personal flotation devices. In its report, OSHA cited the company for five serious violations, ranging from the absence of essential guardrails and first aid training to the lack of an eyewash station.
In the response issued Wednesday, Buzzi Unicem USA clarified that two of citations related to the death of Mitchell. “These citations allege that the Company violated certain OSHA regulations by not ensuring that employees wear personal flotation devices when exposed to drowning hazards and by not providing guardrails on a dock barge to protect employees from falling into the river.”
In addition, the statement says, three other citations unrelated to the incident were issued by OSHA.
“The Company strongly contends that it did not violate the regulations set forth in the citations regarding personal flotation devices and guardrails, and therefore timely filed notice with OSHA that it is contesting the alleged violations contained in these citations (as well as certain aspects of the other citations).
Buzzi Unicem USA operates as River Cement Sales Co. and sells brick, stone and related construction materials manufactured at cement plants across the United States.
According to ohsonline.com, the company currently has active in appeals in three cases.
In a statement to ohsonline.com, OSHA Area Office Director Courtney Bohannon of Jackson said, “Buzzi Unicem USA could have prevented this tragedy by making sure employees wore the personal protective equipment that was readily available. 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.”