GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A Gainesville-based construction company faces nearly $50,000 in federal fines amid accusations it did not properly train, support or equip an employee who died on a Gwinnett County work site last fall.
Channel 2 Action News has learned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued Simpson Trucking and Grading four citations totaling $49,509 following its investigation of the E.E. Robinson Park site in September. Jerry Davis, a 29-year-old heavy machine operator for Simpson, died in a manhole. He was overcome by a gas leak.
Two other workers, who were both temp employees with another construction company on-site, went into the hole after Davis. One was seriously injured. The other decided he was unable to save the two and he made his way out of the hole.
The company is contesting OSHA’s newly released findings.
“We deny all the allegations that are pleaded in the citation,” said attorney Philip Siegel. “Simpson Grading is simply not a bad actor.”
Simpson Trucking and Grading is a small family-owned company that’s been in business for more than 40 years. In September, Davis’ family told Channel 2 Action News several generations of the family have worked for the company, and the Simpsons were good to them. Siegel told Channel 2’s Nicole Carr the company prides itself on prioritizing employee safety, and right before the fatal incident, there was a focus on that.
“Just the day before the incident, the company did provide companywide safety training,” Siegel said.
Davis, we’ve learned, was not assigned to do work around manholes.
“He was not hired to perform confined space entry work, and the company would never knowingly place one of its employees in a position to do work that employee is not trained to perform,” Siegel said. “I think your own earlier reporting noted that, and again, with all due respect to Mr. Davis, he was a heavy equipment operator –(that) begs the question: What was he doing in the manhole?”
The question at hand is whether Simpson fell into the manhole, decided to enter on his own or was instructed to do so by someone on-site.
“It may be that it was just a freak accident where someone was really not where they were supposed to be,” Siegel said.
A witness, the man who survived the manhole accident, told Carr that Davis was not harnessed and did not have any supervision from any of his colleagues on site when he went down into the 18-to-20 foot manhole.
Carr filed an open records request with the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services. It reveals 34 rescuers responded to the park, and were “slightly delayed” in their arrival because they thought the incident site was in Suwanee instead of Buford.
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According to the report, the crews were dispatched at 12:58 p.m. They arrived 13 minutes later. The report says the first rescuer was able to get into the manhole at 1:38 p.m. Nine minutes later, the first victim was pulled from the manhole. The second victim, Davis, was out by 2:03 p.m., which was 25 minutes after the first rescue attempt and and 65 minutes after units arrived.
Channel 2 Action News also found Simpson settled a May 2015 safety citation issued by OSHA. In hindsight and considering the latest case, Siegel said the company regretted settling the case with about $3,000, half of the citation fine.
“Well, Nicole, not surprisingly, it costs more than $3,000 to fight one of these citations," said Siegel. “And Simpson Grading made a business decision, one that they regret now, not knowing the consequences of just paying the penalty.”
The current citations are being contested by Simpson’s legal counsel and the case could lead to settlement or to court. Siegel said there’s a lot of work to do in discovery.
“The full story hasn’t come to light,” he said.