Indiana Company Fined $14K Following Death of 3 Workers in Manhole

State regulators have fined an excavating company $14,400 for workplace safety violations discovered after three workers, including a father and son, died in August while working on a northeastern Indiana sewer project.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration imposed the fine on Jan. 29 against Fort Wayne-based Crosby Excavating Inc. after an inspection found three “serious” safety violations and one “repeat” safety violation.

Jason R. Ball, 48, and his son, Bronson Ball, 21, both of Columbia City, died along with Douglas M. Kramer, 43, of Fort Wayne, on Aug. 25 after they became trapped about 20 feet (6.1 meters) below ground inside a manhole while working on a storm sewer project in Columbia City.

The men were pronounced dead at the scene after firefighters pulled them out of the manhole and medics were unable to revive them in the city about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Fort Wayne.

Whitley County’s coroner found that each man died from asphyxia caused by a low-oxygen environment and subsequent drowning inside the sewer, which the Columbia City mayor’s office has said contained 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water. The deaths were ruled accidental.

IOSHA’s investigation determined that Crosby Excavating failed to properly train the crew on the project and did not effectively limit access to part of the worksite. It also found that workers were not protected by helmets while on a project with risk of head injury from impact, falling or flying objects or electrical shock.

The state agency’s findings included that Crosby Excavating Inc. did not ensure that the employees “possessed understanding, knowledge, and skills necessary for the safe performance of their duties.”

The company has 15 days after receiving IOSHA’s mailed safety order to pay the fine or to contest it, said Stephanie McFarland, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Labor.

This article was first published in Insurance Journal.

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