News and Press Releases

Painting Contractor Sentenced to Probation after Pleading Guilty to Violating OSHA Regulation Causing the Death of an Employee

October 25, 2012

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - A resident of Allegheny County, Pa., pleaded guilty and was sentenced in federal court to one year of probation on a charge of willful violation of an OSHA regulation causing the death of an employee, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.

United States Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan imposed the sentence on Thomas C. Caruso, d/b/a Modern Painting and Decorating, 78, of Springdale, Pa.

According to the information presented in court, Modern Painting was a painting contractor doing both residential and commercial painting. In 2008, Modern Painting was hired to paint the Habitat for Humanity building in New Kensington, Pa. The building is about 30 feet tall and a parapet wall adds another 18 inches in height. The power line ran alongside the front of the building at a slight angle and was within two feet of the building, approximately at the same height as the top of the building. In other words, a person standing on the roof of the building could easily reach out and grab the line. These electric lines were high voltage power lines. At that time these overhead power lines were sleeved by the electric utility company, Allegheny Power, in order to avoid electrical hazards during the work. Most, but not all of the painting work was completed while the electrical lines were sleeved. Because Caruso was not able to complete the entire job in 2008, he made arrangements to complete it in the spring of 2010, but by then the sleeves on the overhead power lines had been removed. The victim, Paul Thompson, who did small jobs for Caruso many years ago, was released from prison in 2009 after serving a 20-year sentence. Because Thompson had worked for Caruso in various capacities prior to his prison stint, he asked Caruso after his release whether any work was available. Caruso assigned Thompson the job of painting the upper third of the exterior front of the Habitat for Humanity building. At that time, Caruso knew that overhead energized power lines were “very close” to where Thompson would be painting. Caruso told Thompson that the lines were “very dangerous” and that he would have to be “extra careful” around the lines. Apart from those admonitions, however, Caruso gave Thompson no safety-related training and took no steps to protect Thompson from the energized lines. The accident took place on April 7, 2010. Thompson was attempting to paint the uppermost part of the building’s front. To do so, he went on to the building’s flat roof and reached down over a parapet wall with a roller that was attached to a fiberglass extension pole. The pole evidently made contact with the nearby overhead power lines, and Thompson was fatally electrocuted.

Assistant United States Attorney Nelson P. Cohen is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Caruso.

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