Cal/OSHA Cites Two Companies, Caltrans in Deadly Accident After Santa Cruz County Mudslide

Tractors work at clearing a slide on Highway 17 on Feb 9, 2017. (Courtesy of Phil Gomez/KSBW)

State workplace regulators have issued close to $50,000 in fines against one of California’s oldest and largest construction companies, a subcontractor and Caltrans in connection with the death of a worker on Highway 17 in Santa Cruz County after one of last winter’s strong rainstorms.

A dump truck backed over and killed 54-year-old Robert Gill and seriously injured 33-year-old Stephen Whitmore near Scotts Valley on Feb. 9. Both men were employed by Watsonville-based Graniterock, a 117-year-old construction materials and services company, which holds offices and does work in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.

Caltrans hired Graniterock to remove the mud from a closed section of the highway. It was one of several areas throughout the region hit with flooding after a storm brought several inches of rain.

In August, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) fined Graniterock more than $32,000 for several violations.

The company failed to ensure that hauling and earth-moving operations were controlled in such a manner that the driver of the dump truck, run by subcontractor Hildebrand & Sons Trucking Inc., knew that Gill and Whitmore were in the area, according to Cal/OSHA.

Graniterock also received citations for not doing enough inspections of the job site and for training and safety failures.

Hildebrand & Sons was fined close to $24,000 for several similar violations. Cal/OSHA fined Caltrans $750 for failing to conduct safety inspections on the job site.

Caltrans and the two companies are appealing the penalties. Among other objections, they say the Cal/OSHA worker who inspected the work site “failed to comply with laws governing administrative searches.”

Shortly after the accident, a Graniterock official said the company’s nearly 1,000 workers were devastated to learn of Gill’s death.

Representatives for Graniterock and Hildebrand declined to comment.

“Caltrans mourns the loss of any person who works on state highways in the interest of public safety,” said Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers in an emailed statement. “We continue to hold regular training with staff and contractors to ensure that safe practices are followed in all highway work zones.”

Caltrans publishes statistics on agency employees who are killed on the job, but its yearly lists do not include workers for the agency’s contractors.

An online fundraiser, set up by Graniterock for Gill’s wife and two children, raised close to $84,000.

Cal/OSHA Cites Two Companies, Caltrans in Deadly Accident After Santa Cruz County Mudslide 4 September,2017Ted Goldberg

Author

Ted Goldberg

Ted Goldberg is the morning editor for KQED News. His beat areas include San Francisco politics, the city’s fire department and the Bay Area’s refineries.

Prior to joining KQED in 2014, Ted worked at CBS News and WCBS AM in New York and Bay City News and KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998.

You can follow him at @TedrickG and reach him on email at tgoldberg@kqed.org

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