The N.C. Department of Labor imposed a $7,000 fine Monday against the City of Winston-Salem for what state officials described as a serious violation of safety measures in a fatal workplace incident at the city’s Hanes Mill Road landfill.
Investigators with the N.C. Division of Occupational Safety and Health determined that a city employee was using a cellphone as he was operating a Caterpillar bulldozer that struck Thomas Michael Thompson, the labor department said. Thompson, 63, an employee of Waste Management Inc., died June 11 after he was pinned between the bulldozer and a truck at the site.
In addition, the employee drove the bulldozer at a speed excessive for the landfill, the labor department said. The agency didn’t mention the speed of the bulldozer when the incident happened.
The employee had three previous accidents within five months while operating heavy equipment and received disciplinary action for “carelessness and recklessness” in operating city equipment, the labor department said.
The employee didn’t receive “any refresher training or follow-up inspections or monitoring to ensure that unsafe behavior(s) had been corrected,” the labor department said.
The labor department cited the city for an alleged violation of the Occupational Safety Health Act, said Erin Wilson, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Wilson declined to identify the driver, who is no longer employed by the City of Winston-Salem.
The fine is “in no way designed to make up for (a) loss of life,” Wilson said.
Marla Prince, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, released a statement about the matter.
"This is a very tragic accident that took a beloved Waste Management team member," Prince said. "It is a heartbreaking incident, and our deepest sympathies go out to the family and to all those involved.
"The safety of our employees, our customers and the communities we service is our highest priority and at the core of everything we do," Prince said. "Any incident resulting in injury is deeply concerning to us."
Under state law, civil fines collected by the labor department are distributed to the state’s public-school system, Wilson said.
The city has 15 days to decide whether to pay the fine or appeal the citation to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission of North Carolina, Wilson said.
City Attorney Angela Carmon declined to comment on the matter.
“As a general rule, the city does not comment upon pending litigation matters including matters pending before an administrative agency,” Carmon said.
The landfill is at 325 W. Hanes Mill Road in the city’s northern section.
The city-owned bulldozer that struck Thompson had no mirrors, and that prevented its driver from checking for pedestrians or equipment behind the bulldozer before backing up, the labor department said.
The city didn’t have measures in place to ensure pedestrian safety at the site during the operation of heavy equipment, the labor department said.
The city also failed to provide its employees at the landfill with a worksite free of hazards that could cause death or serious injuries to its employees, the labor department said.
The labor department closed its case regarding Waste Management Inc. without issuing any citations against the company, Wilson said.
Thompson, of Pinnacle, was a 31-year employee of Waste Management.
Stuart Teeter of Winston-Salem, an attorney representing Thompson’s family, said Wednesday that the labor department’s fine against the city was the right decision.
“We were not surprised by it,” Teeter said. “We thought that would be the outcome.”