Workers' compensation: Cal/OSHA cites employer for worker's death

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has a significant burden ensuring the safety of workers. Following the March death of an employee of the Calaveras County Public Works Department, an investigation led to citations and proposed penalties of $72,000. Another likely consequence of the tragic workplace accident would be a workers' compensation death benefits claim filed by the surviving family members of the deceased worker.

Reportedly, the 57-year-old worker was a county employee for 10 years who died while cleaning up debris after the Butte fire. He was a member of the Cal Fire Conservation Camp hand crew. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigators determined that the worker's death resulted from being struck by a rolling log.

Cal/OSHA spent six months investigating the accident and found both Cal Fire and the Calaveras County Public Works were responsible for the worker's death. The report shows the failure to carry out proper hazard evaluation. An appropriate assessment of risks would have identified the unsecured downed tree as a threat to the safety of workers. Investigators also reported that the workers did not receive adequate safety training related to avoiding hazards on the worksite.

While the significant penalties might help county workers to be safer in the future, it came too late for the deceased worker. Regardless of the outcome of a Cal/OSHA investigation after a fatal workplace accident, the surviving family members can pursue financial assistance through the California workers' compensation insurance program. The claims process could be daunting, but an experienced attorney can provide valuable support and guidance.

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