AUGUSTA — The city has been fined $7,000 and cited for 143 alleged workplace safety violations following an in-depth inspection of city facilities by the state Department of Labor.

City and state officials said such fines typically are negotiated down as long as municipalities correct the workplace safety problems identified.

City officials also said 90 percent of the problems found by the state inspector, who spent several days last October inspecting all city facilities other than schools, already have been fixed.

They said some things the city was cited for, including the report’s claim that two city firetrucks did not have valid state inspection stickers on them, aren’t entirely accurate. City Manager William Bridgeo said the windshield of one of the firetrucks had been replaced recently and the inspection sticker had not yet been replaced on it, and that he’s been assured by Fire Chief Roger Audette the other truck did have a valid state inspection sticker on it.

However, the city does not plan to dispute any of the violations, only to appeal the fines in hopes of having them reduced.

“There are a number of citations we disagree with, which we think were wrong; however, we chose not to get picky,” said Kristy Gould, the city’s human resources director. “Talking with staff, a number of the issues were remedied immediately. I bet 90 percent of them have already been resolved. We’re taking it seriously.”

Julie Rabinowitz, director of communications for the state Department of Labor, indicated negotiating the amount of fines is often done, as long as a municipality is cooperative and expresses a desire to fix the problems.

“Our goal as a state agency is not to cite violations in order to make money off the town or penalize the town,” Rabinowitz said. “We want municipalities to reinvest what the fines would be to become compliant. So we’re willing to work with the town to make sure the safety things are in place, so they’re protecting the workers.”

Bridgeo said municipalities of similar size that also recently have undergone thorough Department of Labor inspections had similar numbers of citations, and state data backs that up.

A 2013 inspection of city of Saco facilities resulted in 106 citations and a proposed fine of $7,650. Another 2013 inspection, of city of Sanford facilities, found 93 violations and resulted in a proposed fine of $7,650, and a 2012 inspection of town facilities in Yarmouth resulted in 170 citations and a proposed penalty of $10,200.

Many of the violations Augusta was cited for were similar to those found across multiple city facilities and departments. They included multiple citations for some employees not having received annual training in skills such as handling blood if there were an accident and procedures for ensuring equipment or vehicles have safety devices so they can’t be operated while they are being worked on.

Gould said it can be challenging to make sure every employee, including part-time and seasonal workers, are up to date on annual training requirements.

Another problem that showed up repeatedly in the inspection report, filed by inspector Tammy Gross, was extension cords only meant to be used temporarily being used long-term, frayed or otherwise damaged extension cords being used, electrical plugs that should have had three prongs having only two, and electric power strips being plugged into other electric power strips.

“We’re making an effort to educate employees about general electrical safety,” Gould said. “Some of it, like (improperly using extension cords and power strips), is silly stuff that shouldn’t have been happening.”

Other violations included a magnetic safety switch on a baler at the Hatch Hill landfill being bypassed with a magnet so it could be operated with its door open, unlabeled containers of chemicals at public works and other departments, tools in multiple departments without the proper guards in place, and employees, including some in the Fire Department, not being fit-tested for respirator masks or using the wrong type of mask.

Gould said the inspection was in-depth and the first such inspection of city facilities by the department in about 15 years.

Rabinowitz said in most cases the safety codes used by the state are based on federal workplace safety standards.

Some of the violations were in the Fire Department, including allegedly damaged power cords on tools and other potential safety problems.

However, Bridgeo noted the inspector, Gross, had a lot of good things to say in person about the Fire Department and safety procedures and knowledge of other city departments, but he said the labor report provides no section where inspectors can note positive workplace safety aspects they find.

“We put a significant amount of resources into training in the Fire Department, and I know Chief Audette and Deputy Chief Groder are passionate about departmental safety and workforce safety,” Bridgeo said. “I observe it every day. Overall, I’d put the safety record of the Augusta Fire Department up against any fire department in the state of Maine.”

Rabinowitz said labor officials could not discuss the violations for which the city was cited because the report detailing them is confidential while the inspection is still “open,” which it will continue to be at least until March.

However, the city has placed a copy of the report on its website and Bridgeo mentioned the citations in his weekly memo to city councilors.

“I’d much rather have a transparent local government and deal with a bit of bad publicity in the process than not,” Bridgeo said of making the report available to councilors and the public. “I’d rather get it all out there and deal with it.”

Labor officials said inspections are done both at random and in response to complaints from people who think they might have spotted potential safety violations.

Risk management officials with Maine Municipal Association, through which the city buys workers’ compensation insurance, said Augusta is one of about 60 municipalities identified as leaders in loss management and workplace safety, part of a by-invitation-only group that is open only to municipalities which have the proper loss-control procedures and policies in place.

Bridgeo said the city’s “experience rating modification,” which is based on workplace safety and is a factor used to help determine insurance rates, is 0.83, which he said is about as good as can be achieved, and it results in the city receiving insurance premium rebates.

Edward McDonald, loss control manager for Maine Municipal Association, said an experience rating of 1 is average across the country, and the lower the number, the better. So a rating such as Augusta’s 0.83 is positive and also results in lower insurance premiums.

McDonald said it would be difficult for any workplace inspector to go to any facility and not find at least some violations.

Mayor David Rollins said though the mayor and city councilors are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the city, he has discussed the Department of Labor citations with Bridgeo and is confident the city staff will address the identified safety issues.

“These violations cited … are an array of things I’d say are of a concerning nature but not egregious violations,” Rollins said. “The things they cited us on, we’ll certainly attend to and make sure we’re in compliance as soon as possible.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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