Enforcement and Inspection

Tragic Fatality Leads to Big Fines in Alaska

The Alaska OSHA program has come down hard on an Anchorage contractor for a tragic incident that didn’t have to happen. Find out what lengths this employer went to in order to avoid its legal duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development hit the contractor with four citations and issued fines of $280,000 for willful violations of Alaska safety standards.

On September 30, 2016, Nelson Tinker, a 24-year-old worker, was killed when a concrete retaining wall he was preparing for demolition collapsed, crushing him. The labor department determined that his employer, the sole proprietor of the contracting business, failed to conduct the required engineering survey to determine the state of the structure and the possibility of an unplanned collapse before demolition.

The state claimed that the employer failed to ensure the structure was properly braced or stabilized against a collapse. What’s more, the business owner provided no safety training or instruction to employees.

Making matters worse was a determination by investigators that the employer misclassified his employees as independent contractors. Miscalculation refers to improperly labeling worker as independent contractors rather than as employees. State labor officials say this allowed the businessman to evade his duty to provide employees a workplace free of recognized hazards. Misclassification also let the owner avoid paying workers’ compensation premiums, unemployment insurance, and taxes.

State labor commissioner Heidi Drygas said the case illustrates the tragic toll misclassification can take on workers. “If Nelson Tinker had been afforded the protections he deserved as an employee, he would be alive today,” she said. Alaska is one of 37 states that have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Labor to work to combat worker misclassification.