October 28, 2011

Employer likely to fight fines in deaths

Ted Stevens says the men who died in a sewer tank chose not to use safety equipment he provided.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The employer of two men who were killed by sewer gases on a job site in Kennebunkport last month said Thursday that he will likely challenge proposed federal safety fines.

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Richard Kemp

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Winfield H. Studley

“If a fine could bring them back, we certainly would do that,” said Tim Stevens, owner of Stevens Electric & Pump Service.

“It’s not the money so much. I just don’t want people to think that we’re a careless company and I certainly don’t want people to think we don’t have the equipment on the job site,” Stevens said.

Winfield Studley, 58, of Windsor and Richard Kemp, 70, of Monmouth died from inhalation of hydrogen sulfide, a sewer gas, while working on a pump inside a sewer tank at the Lodge at Turbats Creek, a motel in Kennebunkport.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a total of $16,800 in fines and cited the employer for four safety violations, including failure to ventilate the area where the men were working and failing to test the air quality before and during the work.

OSHA also said the workers were not using harnesses designed to help them escape the tank in such an emergency.

Karen Billups, assistant area director in OSHA’s Augusta office, said the agency cannot provide details of its investigation until after the company responds to the citations.

The company has less than two weeks to contest the penalties or pay the fines.

Stevens said all of the required ventilation, monitoring and safety equipment was on the truck at the job site, and that all of the company’s employees had received refresher training on safety practices two weeks before the accident.

“I am not trying to say anything bad or negative about my employees because they were my friends,” Stevens said. “They chose not to use the equipment and we don’t know why.”

The experienced workers were found inside the below-ground tank, which is accessed through a manhole and is about 4 feet tall, 6 feet long and 5 feet wide. They had been trying to fix a pump and had been delayed because they needed different parts.

Studley’s family members could not be reached Thursday to respond to the OSHA citations.

Kemp’s widow, Charlotte Kemp, said she doesn’t blame the company. Her son and two grandsons still work for Stevens Electric & Pump Service.

“How can you blame the people he worked for if they gave him all the tools and he didn’t use them?” she said.

Kemp said her husband was careful and told her about all the training he got. She thinks the men got careless at the wrong moment, and perhaps went down into the tank to try a quick adjustment.
It’s also possible, she said, that one of the men was overcome and the other went in to help.

“Every Wednesday they would have a safety meeting. But you know how it is, you get complacent. Everybody does,” she said.

Richard and Charlotte Kemp celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary on Sept. 22, five days before he died. He turned 70 on Sept. 13, but kept working because he loved it, his wife said.

“I had been after him to cut back,” she said.

Kemp said the small company that employed her husband is like a second family, and that owner Tim Stevens was devastated by her husband’s death.

Stevens said the company has again emphasized precautions with its employees but it’s not possible for him to supervise every work site all the time. He said he plans to meet with OSHA officials in the coming days to discuss the citations. The company must pay or contest the fines by around Nov. 8, and Stevens said he expects to contest them.

“It’s not the amount of fines,” he said. “It’s that they’re holding us responsible.”

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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