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Attorney General Charges West Michigan Construction Company Owner With MIOSHA Violation Resulting in Employee’s Death

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Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced that his Criminal Division has filed felony charges against Joe Novak of Holland. Novak is President and Owner of Black River Builders, LLC of Sparta, and he has been charged with one count of Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA) Violation Causing Death in connection with the death of 38-year-old Brian Tarachanowicz in July of 2012.

“Business owners have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees,” said Schuette in an official press release. “When tragedy strikes and a life is lost over carelessness in the workplace, we will hold employers accountable.”

Tarachanowicz was a subcontractor with Black River Builders when he fell more than 26 feet to his death while removing an old roof deck at Federal-Mogul Corp. in Sparta on July 2, 2012. Tarachanowicz fell through a weak spot in the roof onto concrete and was not wearing safety equipment. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

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A MIOSHA investigation of the incident alleged that Mr. Tarachanowicz and other people working at the site were not using fall protection equipment even though a section of the old deck had been removed and they were exposed to a twenty-six fall. The investigation also alleged that there was no engineering survey or daily inspections conducted to detect any hazards or unsafe conditions during the progress of the demolition work by Black River Builders and that there also was no inspection of the wooden deck working surface for the project.

MIOSHA has inspected Black River Builders nine times since 2007 and has cited them with several serious violations including a 2008 Serious Violation for lack of fall protection gear. The most recent charges against them stem from an investigation conducted by MIOSHA that lasted from July 2, 2012 until September 28, 2012.  That investigation resulted in Black River Builders receiving four citations for not abiding by MIOSHA rules.

The felony charge against Novak carries a one year maximum penalty and was filed in the 63rd Circuit Court in Kent County.  Novak is expected to surrender to authorities and will be arraigned on the charge today.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSHA) states, “An employer who willfully violates this act, an order pursuant to this act, or a rule or standard promulgated under this act which causes the death of an employee is guilty of a felony…” MCL 408.1035(5).

Under MIOSHA rules, Part 45, “The employer shall determine if the walking/working surfaces on which its employees are to work have the strength and structural integrity to support employees safely. Employees shall be allowed to work on those surfaces only when the surfaces have the requisite strength and structural integrity…each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is six feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.”

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