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Annals of Workers Comp: Two Companies, One (Big) Fine
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Annals of Workers Comp: Two Companies, One (Big) Fine

Here's an interesting case of OSHA assessing a single fine for two separate Massachusetts entities, both involved in roofing a residence in Wenham MA. A. C. Castle Co. and the Daryl Provencher company often worked together on roofing jobs; Castle served as the General Contractor (GC), with Provencher a subcontractor.

In October 2014 three Provencher employees were working on a ladder-jack scaffold when a plank in the scaffold collapsed, dropping the workers 20 feet to the ground. Two suffered serious injuries.

There were numerous safety violations, including the fact that the collapsed plank was not scaffold grade. While the OSHA release is silent on the issue, it appears that Provencher installed the scaffold. Nonetheless, when it came to assigning responsibility, OSHA cited both companies for three willful, one repeat and five serious violations. The companies were fined $300,000 (later reduced to $173,500). OSHA noted that A. C. Castle exercised a degree of control and oversight over Provencher's operations "sufficient to render the two a single employer under the OSH Act."

A. C. Castle has argued that they should not be responsible for the actions of a subcontractor. While OSHA is invoking federal standards for the joint liability, it's worth noting that MA comp law would not support A. C. Castle's position. With Castle and Provencher in identical lines of work, there is no firewall between them. Even if Provencher lacked workers comp coverage, its employees would be covered by Castle's policy. NOTE: There are no indications that Provencher employees lacked coverage.

There is a sad footnote to this story. Daryl Provencher died of natural causes at 47 last year, which leaves A.C. Castle solely responsible for the formidable fine. In this saga of liability, A.C. Castle is left holding the proverbial bag.

Jon Coppelman
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant

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