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An Illinois construction contractor was arrested after refusing to abate years of alleged health and safety violations and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties. The case demonstrates how business owners can be held personally and criminally responsible for ignoring Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations.
Mike Neri, owner of Mike Neri Sewer & Water Contractor, based in Elk Grove, Ill., was taken into custody Oct. 27, 2014, after years of escalating enforcement measures by OSHA went unanswered.
“This action followed the owner’s long history of failing to comply with OSHA standards and orders of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission,” OSHA said.
In October 2013, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an enforcement order against Neri. He was held in contempt in July 2014 for failing to comply and threatened with possible incarceration. The court ordered U.S. Marshals to place Neri in custody after Neri did not respond to the abatement orders. He will remain in custody until he has either fully complied with the court’s enforcement order or has demonstrated he is unable to comply, the court said.
According to OSHA, Neri’s company was cited multiple times, primarily for trenching and excavation violations since 2009. Those violations include failing to provide cave-in protection, failing to ensure that excavated materials were placed at least two feet back from the trench edge, and failing to provide training to workers on trenching and excavation hazards. OSHA standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be protected against collapse and that excavated material be at least two feet from the trench opening.
The contractor was placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program in the spring of 2013. The program focuses on employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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