Newport News Shipbuilding could potentially pay $161K in penalties to OSHA

The USS George Washington (CVN 73). (WYDaily Photo/ Courtesy of Ashley Cowan, Huntington Ingalls Industries)

The Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries received two serious citations and one willful citation after a shipyard worker fell 20 feet while working on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier.

The penalties and the report findings are still pending abatement of violations and penalty payment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection detail report.

“I have some very sad news to share,” Jennifer Boykin, president of the shipyard, wrote in a letter to employees on Aug. 19. “This afternoon, we lost one of our fellow shipbuilders.”

The man, Tim Ewing, 58, was a construction supervisor with 39 years of shipyard service.

According to the OSHA report, Newport News Shipbuilding might have to pay $161,925 in penalties.

Each serious citation is $13,494 and the willful citation is $134,937. An invoice and debt collection notice was sent to the shipyard on Feb. 14.

The first citation noted the employee had not been trained to recognize fall hazards in the work area, minimize the hazards and how to properly use the fall protection systems and equipment, according to the report.

“One or about Aug. 19, 2019, an employee transitioned through voids ranging from approximately 20 to 40 feet in height without fall protection or training,” the report noted for the first serious citation.

In the second citation, the report said the employer did not account for each employee by sight and verbal communication throughout the work shift at regular intervals.

“On or about Aug. 19, 2019, a construction supervisor required to inspect the void spaces fell inside the void with supervision unaware how long he had been in there without first-aid,” the citation noted.

The last citation was considered “willful” and the report noted the employees on the date of the Ewing’s death were inspecting the voids, with a fall hazard of approximately 20 feet, without using fall protection.

“When employees are working aloft, or elsewhere at elevations more than 5 feet above a solid surface, the employer did not provide either scaffolds or a sloping ladder, meeting the requirements of this subpart, to afford safe footing, and the employees were not protected by safety belts and lifelines meeting the requirements of 1915.159 and 1915.160,” the report noted.

According to OSHA’s website, serious penalties and failure to abate are $13,494 per violation and willful or repeated violations are $134,937 per violation.

Joanna Hawkins, deputy regional director for the DOL, wrote in an email the employer can contest the penalty amounts, adding the information was from a spokesperson from the DOL but did not note which person.

In a letter addressed to George Riefler, environmental, safety and health manager at the shipbuilding division, Stanley J. Dutko Jr., area director for OSHA, wrote the inspection also found a hazardous atmospheric condition with hot work but did not issue a citation.

“Although no citations will be issued at this time, in the interest of workplace safety and health, I recommend that Newport News Shipbuilding voluntarily take the necessary steps to materially reduce or eliminate your employees exposure to the hazard,” Dutko Jr. wrote.

He said a letter was required to detail the corrective actions taken or the shipyard plans to take by June 19 and OSHA could check up on the shipyard site within a year.

WYDaily reached out to Duane Bourne, spokesman for the shipyard, to ask if the shipyard plans to appeal the issued citation costs and their thoughts on OSHA’s findings.

“The safety and well-being of our employees is of critical importance to us at HII,” Bourne wrote in an email. “We are committed to working closely with OSHA on all matters related to employee safety.”

“However, given the particular matter you are asking about, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss it at this time because we’ve not yet had a conference with OSHA on the matter so it remains open,” he added.

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