Federal workplace safety regulators are seeking to fine a Wayland contractor and his related companies $1.3 million for “willful, repeat and serious” workplace safety violations after the February deaths of two employees who were doing sewer repair work in downtown Boston.
In announcing the proposed fine against Laurence M. Moloney, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday also revealed that he had found a way to stay in business: by establishing a new company under a different name. Officials said the new company was performing work in Boston and that OSHA had already conducted an inspection of one of its job sites based on a complaint.
The revelation that Moloney had formed a new company prompted swift action from the city, which said its Public Works Department would deny permit applications from him and his associated companies “while he continues to maintain a history of engaging in unsafe, hazardous workplace practices.”
Two men who worked for Moloney’s previous company, Atlantic Coast Utilities, Jordy Alexander Castaneda Romero, 27, and Juan Carlos Figueroa Gutierrez, 33, died on Feb. 24 after being struck by a dump truck and thrown into a 9-foot trench on High Street, where they were doing sewer work for a private landlord.
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health James Frederick said Moloney has had violations of work safety standards as far back as 2001.
The fines cover 28 violations and were addressed to Moloney and four different businesses he has operated over the years. Moloney’s companies are also being investigated for possible violations of federal wage laws, the Labor Department said.
“For two decades, Moloney has knowingly disregarded his responsibility to ensure the safety and health of his workers,” Frederick said in a call with reporters. “Instead of correcting the violations he has been cited for and paying the penalties, he closes the business and reopens under a different name.”
Romero’s wife, Meladys Romero, said the repeated violations are unacceptable.
“It just makes me angry,” she said. “It wasn’t just a one-time thing. It has happened over and over.”
A spokesman for the companies, Jim Borghesani, said in a statement: “The company will assess the actions taken by OSHA today and will determine its next steps, including contesting any assertion of company error or negligence. It is clear that this was a tragic accident and any attempt to portray it otherwise is both inaccurate and imprudent.”
Federal officials said Moloney’s latest business, Sterling Excavation LLC, has already drawn OSHA’s attention over safety concerns. The agency said it initiated an inspection on Friday after receiving a complaint about excavation hazards at a worksite at 18 Crestway Road in East Boston.
Sterling Excavation was named in the citations against Moloney, but federal labor officials said they didn’t have the authority to stop him from setting up the business.
“We can’t prevent a company from incorporating under another name,” said Christine Eskilson, deputy regional solicitor for the Department of Labor. “We just need to keep tracking them down.”
Borghesani didn’t respond to questions about Sterling Excavation.
The business was incorporated on March 1 by Nuala Nichoncubhair, according to a certificate of organization filed with the state. The city issued the company excavation permits in June and last month for job sites in East Boston and South Boston, records show.
Nichoncubhair said Moloney is not involved in the business.
“I have my own company. I run my company for me. Not for Laurence Moloney, not for any other person,” said Nichoncubhair.
She said she once worked for Moloney, but didn’t provide details and declined to comment further.
The city said it requires all contractors applying for permits to be forthright and truthful about previous workplace violations.
“After discovering that Atlantic Coast Utilities and its owner, Laurence Moloney, omitted previous OSHA violations and went on to form a successor company in Sterling Excavation Inc., the Boston Public Works Permit Division will deny any permit application from Mr. Moloney, or any company associated with Mr. Moloney,” it said in a statement.
Moloney’s name is not listed on Sterling Excavation’s certificate of organization or on a document the company submitted to the city on April 20 that asserted it had not been issued any notice or violation by OHSA in the past five years.
The document is called a “Mattocks-Higgins Affidavit of Workplace Safety” and was enacted by former mayor Martin J. Walsh after two men — Kelvin Mattocks and Robert Higgins — died in a 2016 trench collapse in the South End.
Moloney did not disclose in previous filings with City Hall in August 2019 and December 2020 that Atlantic Coast Utilities had been cited by OSHA, records show, and it appears the city did not review his claims because the company continued to work in Boston.
Before the High Street tragedy, OSHA had cited Moloney and his companies for 14 violations and fined him more than $81,000, of which he paid $7,700, the agency said. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to failing to pay his workers a prevailing wage and their earned overtime that year.
The revelations about Moloney’s omissions first came to light as Walsh was preparing to leave his job as mayor to lead the Department of Labor, which is pursuing the violations. Walsh became US labor secretary at the end of March.
In the fatal construction accident, OSHA cited the company for refusing to “train Romero, Gutierrez and other workers to recognize and avoid work-related hazards” and for failing to “conduct worksite inspections to identify and correct hazards, including the risks of being struck by construction vehicles and other traffic, crushed or engulfed in an unguarded trench, and being overcome by oxygen-deficient or toxic atmospheres in the trench and an adjacent manhole.”
“Two hardworking people lost their lives because Atlantic Coast Utilities put its own profits over workers’ safety and health,” Walsh said in a statement Wednesday. “The failure of employers to follow federal safety and health regulations designed to keep workers out of harm’s way is absolutely unacceptable. This is yet another reminder of why the department’s mission to protect workers’ rights and ensure safe working conditions is so important.”
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins is investigating the deaths of Romero and Gutierrez. On Wednesday, she praised the proposed fine.
“Secretary Walsh, with this proposal, is standing firmly behind the labor workforce that does incredibly dangerous and difficult work and sending a warning to companies across the country that choose to ignore or evade OSHA guidance and regulations — you will be held accountable,” she said in a statement.
The state Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended the license of the dump truck driver, Leonardo X. Diaz, two days after the incident. No criminal charges have been filed.
Meladys Romero said she became a widow less than two months after she married her husband in Beverly on Jan. 2.
“We had so many dreams, so many goals. We were starting to build our life together,” she said. “I feel like it just got cut short.”
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.