The N.C. Department of Labor has fined a Belmont-based tree removal service $39,200 in connection with the death of a 19-year-old worker who was pulled into a wood chipper at a Kings Mountain home in December.
Jon Crawford, owner of Crawford Tree Service & Stump Grinding Co., was cited for failing to repair the lower feed stop bar on the chipper. The broken bar exposed workers to being caught in the equipment, the Department of Labor says in the citation.
Mason Scott Cox of Gastonia died in the incident at a home on Hawthorne Road.
“The employer did not furnish to each of his employees conditions of employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or were likely to cause death or serious injury or serious physical harm to his employees, in that employees were exposed to (being) caught in feed rollers (or) cut by brush chipper cutters,” the citation says.
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Crawford also was cited for failing to train workers on how to properly operate the chipper. Workers should have been required to review the owner’s manual, watch a safety video and show they understood how to operate the chipper before being allowed to operate it on their own.
The company also was cited for failing to have workers wear protective helmets and footwear.
Saying he’s being “made out like a villain,” Crawford told the Observer he will dispute the state’s findings.
By state law, Crawford has 15 working days from receipt of the citation to request an informal conference with the Labor Department, to file a “notice of contest” with the state Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission or to pay the penalty.
Crawford said if something was in disrepair on the $60,000 chipper that day, it wouldn’t have been able to operate. He said Cox also was working with two experienced workers beside him.
He said he operated his business safely for 26 years, with only one leg injury among his employees before December.
“They hadn’t heard of me in 26 years,” he said of state inspectors, referring to the absence of safety issues with his company. “I ran a safe company.”
Crawford said he was so distraught over Cox’s death that he suffered a heart attack and had to close his business. “I’d never seen a death before,” he said.
Crawford had no previous safety violations, according to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.
But a check on the company by the Observer after Cox’s death found it had an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau for failing to respond to five customer complaints. Most focused on business transactions, not safety concerns.
However, a complaint last summer focused on a tree that fell on a house. A homeowner said Crawford’s crew was halfway through removing a tree from a neighbor’s yard when the person had the workers come over to remove a tree.
As workers cut the person’s tree, it fell onto the roof of the house, the homeowner said.