US Airways cited following employee death


by Sybil Hoffman

Posted on September 17, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 17 at 11:26 AM

PHOENIX -- Tempe-based US Airways is facing $21,000 in penalties following the tragic death of an employee earlier this year. 3TV has obtained the investigation recently completed by the Industrial Commission of Arizona's Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The area where the employee died is out of the public view. It's an elaborate system with conveyor belts and numerous control panels all designed to get your luggage from your plane to the carousel.

But on Feb. 17, a US Airways employee trying to remove a suitcase stuck on one of those belts was killed instantly.

"In this case while he was on the conveyor system or conveyor belt, there was a portion above him that suddenly lowered or dropped onto him and caused some blunt force trauma and asphyxiation, which resulted in his death," said Darin Perkins, the director for OSHA.

OSHA is now blaming US Airways for the accident, accusing the airline of not doing enough to train its employees on how to shut down the equipment.

"We're talking about a fatality here," Perkins said. "These are conditions that we believe contributed directly to that fatality and so they are serious and not to be taken lightly."

OSHA issued three citations against US Airways for not having proper procedures in place. Each citation is classified as serious and each carries a $7,000 penalty.

"Not providing employees with enough information or training so that they knew exactly what buttons to push or what stop buttons to activate to make sure the entire system or at least this portion of it was effectively shut down," Perkins said.

The investigation reveals it took 15 minutes before anyone was aware Robert DeMarco, 60, had been crushed. Another employee discovered him face down on the conveyor belt.

OSHA not only hopes the work environment becomes safer at US Airways but that other companies also take note.

As Perkins explains, "Hopefully it sends a message not only to US Airways in this case but to other employers that, hey, we need to make sure that our policies and procedures are adequate, they're in compliance with the standards so we can avoid citations and penalties."

OSHA is contesting the citations and charges, although we're told it's rare for citations to be reclassified.

US Airways denied our request for an interview but did issue the following statement:

"We very much regret the circumstances of Mr. Demarco’s fatal accident. We have fully cooperated with OSHA during the accident investigation and have offered extensive assistance to Mr. Demarco’s family following the tragedy.

"US Airways has always had robust policies and procedures, training, and audits in place for the safe operation of equipment. However, since the investigation, we have re-evaluated our procedures and have put several corrective measures in place to address any deficiencies noted in the investigation including:

"Reworking recurrent training on lockout/tagout procedures into a format that is easier to understand and better complies with safety and regulatory requirements than previous versions.

"Developing site-specific training that includes designating a local trainer at each location. Implementing a new program for the audit and inspection of lockout/tagout procedures for baggage conveyor belts. The program exceeds OSHA requirements for periodic (at least annual) inspections.

"In addition, US Airways has developed a new program for the audit and inspection of other facilities maintenance functions, going beyond OSHA recommendations."