Metro

OSHA fines welding company in Back Bay fire

The welding company whose workers allegedly sparked a fire that killed two Boston firefighters in the Back Bay last spring did not follow safety precautions, a failure that led to the fatal blaze, an investigation by the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration has concluded.

Calling it a “needless, tragic fire,” the agency issued a fine of $58,000 against the welding company, D&J Ironworks in Malden, in what is the first formal investigation into the blaze to reach a conclusion.

Advertisement

A lawyer for the company’s owner, Giuseppe Falcone, said Falcone is planning to schedule a conference with OSHA to dispute the agency’s conclusions.

“We expect to meet with OSHA representatives and address its findings, which are without support both legally and factually,” said the lawyer, Richard C. Bardi.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Bardi declined to be specific.

“In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of the fallen firefighters,” Bardi said.

The fire started after workers from D&J began to install iron railings at 296 Beacon St. Sparks flew into the wooden clapboards of a shed attached to 298 Beacon St., according to Suffolk prosecutors, who are still deciding whether to bring criminal charges in the case.

Advertisement

On Sept. 12, OSHA issued its findings, accusing D & J of 10 violations of federal workplace safety standards in the March 26 tragedy.

D & J has 15 working days to pay the fines, but also can dispute the findings in a meeting with OSHA officials.

“This company’s failure to implement these required, common-sense safeguards put its own employees at risk and resulted in a needless, tragic fire,” Brenda Gordon, OSHA’s director for Boston and southeastern Massachusetts, said in a forceful statement that was unequivocal in the blame it assigned to D & J Ironworks.

Among the most serious violations:

 D & J did not train employees in workplace safety, including fire safety.

 D & J did not develop or maintain an effective fire protection and prevention program at the job site and “as a result, welding sparks ignited the adjacent building and caused a fire.”

 The railing being installed was not moved to a safer location, away from fire hazards, while it was being cut and welded.

 D & J failed to use a fire watcher — someone knowledgeable in preventing and putting out fires — at the site.

OSHA’s findings come at a poignant time for the families of firefighter Michael R. Kennedy and Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr., who were killed in the Back Bay fire. Many of their relatives are in Colorado Springs for the annual Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, which commemorates firefighters killed in the line of duty each year.

The names of Walsh and Kennedy will be inscribed on what is known as the Wall of Honor.

Kennedy’s mother, Kathy Crosby-Bell, was in Colorado on Friday when she learned of OSHA’s ruling.

“This is only one piece of the ongoing investigation and I look forward to the results of the complete investigation from the District Attorney’s office,” she said in an e-mail. “Ultimately, I hope this reminds all Bostonians of the critical need to ensure the safety of our firefighters who put their lives on the line for each one of us every day.”

Kennedy, 33, and Walsh, 43, became trapped in the basement of 298 Beacon St. after they responded to what at first was a small fire burning in the back of the residential building. But whipping winds fanned the flames and the fire made conditions so hot and dangerous that fellow firefighters were unable to get inside. They listened helplessly on the radio as Kennedy and Walsh pleaded for a rescue.

Boston officials have said that no permits for welding work were taken out that day by the company.

A series of civil lawsuits have been filed by the owners 298 Beacon St. and an adjacent building and are pending in Suffolk Superior Court.

Boston fire officials are conducting an internal review of what happened that day, and the findings are expected to be released this fall, said Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department.

“What they’re doing is looking at policies and procedures,” he said. “They’re reviewing everything, reviewing weather, radio communications, anything and everything having to do with the fire.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which has investigated other fatal firefighting cases in Boston, is also conducting a review.

OSHA decided to investigate after learning that employees at the job site played a role in the fire. D & J was issued a number of fines between $5,000 and $7,000 for each violation.

Fines can be higher if the company repeats the violations within five years. A company can be charged up to $70,000 for a single violation, and even face criminal charges if OSHA determines that employers deliberately disregarded workplace safety.

In the case of the Back Bay fire, OSHA investigators determined that there were issues that posed a hazard to workers but did not conclude that the company willfully violated regulations, said Ted Fitzgerald, an OSHA spokesman.

The fines are designed to ensure companies comply with workplace standards, not reflect the value of a worker’s life, Fitzgerald said.

“We don’t presume to put a value on human life,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s irreplaceable.”

Sidney Shapiro, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law who has served as a consultant to OSHA, said proponents for better workplace standards have been pushing Congress to increase the fines the federal agency can levy against companies that fail to protect their workers.

“I mean $58,000?” Shapiro said. “That’s not a lot of money.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.