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Tempe-based airline faces fines in fatal accident

US Airways, a commercial airline based in Tempe, must pay $21,000 in fines that OSHA imposed following an investigation of an employee's death. The accident took place in an area of the airport that the public does not ordinary see: a system of conveyors and machinery that get passengers' luggage from one place to another.

While sophisticated, the system apparently poses risk for work accidents. In this case, an employee was killed when a piece of machinery suddenly fell on him while he was trying to move a piece of luggage. He died at the scene, suffering from blunt force trauma and asphyxiation.

OSHA issued three major violations, each carrying with them a $7,000 fine, against US Airways because the airline allegedly did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to prevent negligent of its machinery. Specifically, employees did not know how to shut down the conveyor system in an emergency. It took 15 minutes for another employee to discover the fatally injured man pinned under the machinery.

OSHA hopes the citations will encourage both US Airways and all employers to ensure that their employees know how to handle dangerous equipment when an emergency arises. For its part, US Airways claims that it has already begun to overhaul and improve its safety procedures, going even beyond OSHA's recommendations.

Increased safety at work may also reduce workers' compensation claims for death benefits. In cases like these, where an employee dies while working, his or her spouse and children will get a portion of the employee's average monthly wage indefinitely, until certain conditions occur like remarriage or a child's turning 18 (or 22, if the child enrolls in college). The family will also receive a one-time benefit to cover the cost of the employee's funeral.

Source: AZFamily.com, "US Airways cited following employee death," Sybil Hoffman, Sept. 17, 2012

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