Personal Injury

Landscaper hit with steep OSHA fine after tragic wood chipper accident

woodchipper with worker present Wikimedia commons Landscaper hit with steep OSHA fine after tragic wood chipper accidentJustus Booze had never been anywhere near a wood chipper before showing up to work in May 2016 for a landscaping job. His help wasn’t really needed. “It wasn’t a huge job,” said Tony Watson, owner of Countryside Tree Care. “I liked Justice and wanted to help him out.”

But May 4, 2016, turned suddenly tragic when Booze was dragged headfirst into a Bandit 250 wood chipper with metal blades that spun so fast and powerfully they could shred two-foot massive logs in a mere second. Booze died from severe sharp force and shredding injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated and hit Countryside with $141,811 in fines for a laundry list of violations. Among them, failure to provide adequate training, gear or supervision. Watson is appealing OSHA’s charge. A separate investigation by the New York Health Department determined that Booze’s death was entirely preventable.

Wilson is the only full-time employee with Countryside. When he works landscaping jobs, he climbs trees to cut branches. He calls on experienced workers to use chainsaws and drive vehicles to pick up tree trucks and push them into the wood chipper. Booze was assigned groundwork, like feeding tree branches and debris into the wood chipper.

One safety feature for the Bandit 250 wood chipper is a wooden paddle that workers are to use to guide debris into the chipper. But security camera footage of the incident showed that neither Booze nor a co-worker at the site used the paddle. They also weren’t wearing safety gear like goggles or hard hats.

The wood chipper’s strong, fast-rotating blades can suck a worker into the machine in less than three seconds. The worker would have less than a second to free a hand and pull the “last chance” cables just before the blades made contact with the person.

The video doesn’t show the accident when it happened and no one witnessed it. A co-worker said he heard the wood chipper make a funny noise. When he turned around, he saw Booze’s feet sticking out of the machine.

Watson, who is appealing the OSHA fine, said he can’t afford to pay that much money.

“When a company fails to provide training and safety gear to a worker who dies as a result, that’s a crime that should be punished with fines high enough to make the employer feel the life lost was valued,” Matt London, executive director of the Northeast New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, told the Times Union. “Think about how differently Justus’ death would have been prosecuted and punished if he worked in an office for a big paycheck.”

Source: Times Union