The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that state labor officials correctly applied safety laws when they cited Bethlehem Steel Corp. after a 1991 accident that killed a worker at the Sparrows Point plant.
The ruling, prompted by Bethlehem Steel's court challenge to the citation, is expected to make it easier for state labor officials to crack down on safety violations involving barriers for heavy equipment in Maryland industries.
"It will make it easier for MOSH [the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health program] to prove its case," said Jonathan R. Krasnoff, an assistant attorney general for the commissioner of labor and industry.
The court ruled that MOSH administrators acted properly when they required Bethlehem Steel to provide reasons for failing to install machine guards on a lathe at the Sparrows Point plant where Samuel Garcia was killed in 1991.
In an appeal of a citation issued after Mr. Garcia's death, the company argued that MOSH should first be required to prove why the machine guards were needed.
Mr. Garcia was killed Aug. 21, 1991, when one of his gloves became entangled in the lathe he was using. He was pulled into a high-speed roller and struck his head, according to court records.
A MOSH inspector who investigated the accident found no safety violations that contributed directly to Mr. Garcia's death.
But Bethlehem Steel was issued a citation for failing to equip the lathe with safety barriers that the inspector said would prevent other types of accidents.
Bethlehem Steel appealed that citation to Baltimore County Circuit Court, which set the stage for yesterday's ruling.
Mr. Krasnoff said the ruling does not mean Bethlehem Steel contributed to Mr. Garcia's death, but only that the steelmaker must show in future hearings why certain safety barriers were not installed on the lathe.
He said the ruling also means the case must again be considered by the commissioner of labor and industry, who will review a hearing examiner's conclusions that the absence of safety barriers posed a serious safety violation.
Earle K. Shawe, a Bethlehem Steel lawyer, said that unlike criminal cases, the decision puts the burden of proof on the person charged.