Company fined over man's death

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
CONCORD — The North Carolina Department of Labor has cited and fined a Concord company after an April investigation into the death of an employee.
Gary Donald Merrington, 47, was killed when he fell from a storage rack at Sysco Guest Supply Inc. in late March.
The N.C. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division opened an investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
The report says Merrington fell 19 feet from a storage rack while he tried to stabilize a pallet of paper napkins.
Merrington was a warehouse supervisor at the company, which supplies lodging and hospitality products. He worked at the company for nearly seven years.
The labor department cited the company with four alleged serious violations.
The penalty for the violations total $12,550.
“The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life. By law, the civil money penalities collected by the N.C. Department of Labor are not the receipts of the department, but rather must be remitted to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which then distributes the monies to the public school systems,” said Dolores Quesenberry, director of communications with the state Department of Labor.
The violations dealt with riding the forks of a forklift, working in the racks without fall protection, leaving the forklift unattended with the forks elevated and failure to re-evaluate forklift operator performance every three years.
The first violation occurred in the warehouse where employees were “periodically elevated by a powered industrial truck, standing on the forks or an empty pallet” to retrieve products or access a racking system. The penalty for the first violations is $3,500.
The report also suggests a way to correct the violation by following the forklift manufacturer’s recommendations, which prohibit lifting anyone with the truck unless they are using an approved platform.
The second violation includes employees not being equipped with “personal fall protection equipment.”
The penalty for the second violations is $4,500.
A feasible method to correct the violation is to enforce the employer’s “Preferred Work Methods” that prohibits employees from climbing in the racks or on equipment.
The third type of violation was for a “powered industrial truck instructor,” who was also a truck operator, had not had his performance evaluated within three years.
The penalty for the third violation is for $3,500.
The final violation was also in the warehouse where an employee elevated a powered industrial truck 19 feet to the top of a storage rack and left the lift unattended with the forks elevated and the ignition switch in the on position.
The penalty for that violation is $1,050.
The maximum penalty for each serious violation is $7,000, Quesenberry said.
“Fines are issued to penalize the offending employer, but also to get the attention of other employers with similar work environments,” she said.
The Department of Labor released its findings to the company earlier this month and gave them until Monday to fix the violations or contest them.
Sysco requested an informal conference to discuss the citations, Quesenberry said, which is scheduled for June 29 in Charlotte.
The company also has the right to contest part or all citation items now or after the informal conference. The company can also just pay the penalty.
During the conference the company can present any questions, problems or concerns, evidence and verification that it has fixed the violations.
There are three possible outcomes that could result from the conference:
• The Department of Labor considers the company’s information and issues amended citations.
• The Department of Labor issues a “no change” letter, meaning the citation will remain as originally issued.
• The Department of Labor drafts an informal settlement agreement if it’s determined an agreement would be beneficial to employee safety, it would expedite the abatement process or resolve the case.
The informal settlement could include penalty reduction, modification of citations and mandate that safety guidelines be established.
“While we remain deeply saddened to have lost our colleague Mr. Merrington as a result of the accident, Sysco Guest Supply must respectfully decline the opportunity to comment until after the June 29 hearing and all courses of due process have taken place,” said Charley Wilson, vice president of corporate communications for Sysco Corporation.
An attempt to obtain comments from Merrington’s brother, Allen, was unsuccessful.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.