Tree services company F.A. Bartlett, whose employee died last year after being pulled into a wood chipper while on the job in Menlo Park, now faces five citations and fines amounting to $72,500 from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA).
The citations are related to a tragic incident in which 47-year-old Jesus Contrerez-Benitez, who was a Redwood City resident, died while feeding branches into a wood chipper in the 900 block of Peggy Lane in Menlo Park's Suburban Park neighborhood.
In its April citations, Cal/OSHA stated that F.A. Bartlett had failed to ensure that the numerous unsafe actions that Contrerez-Benitez took were corrected. Video evidence shows that not only did Contrerez-Benitez feed the chipper alone that day, which is against instructions from the manufacturer, but was also positioned in the wrong spot, which put him out of reach from a control lever that could have stopped the machine.
According to Cal/OSHA, F.A. Bartlett acted irresponsibly by failing to ensure the locking system, that could have prevented unauthorized use of the wood chipper, was equipped to do so.
F.A. Bartlett is contesting the citations, claiming that the company is not liable for Contrerez-Benitez's actions that day.
In a letter to Paul Guiriba, associate safety engineer at the California Department of Industrial Relations, Scott Prophett, corporate safety director at F.A. Bartlett, said that a supervisor conducted a safety briefing with the crew less than an hour before the fatal accident.
In a separate letter to Guiriba, Prophett wrote that in addition to completing a Chipper Specialist Certification Program, Contrerez-Benitez had been given safety training with the chippers seven times between 2016 and 2019.
David G. Marren, vice president of safety and regulatory affairs at F.A. Bartlett, referenced Bartlett's stance on the incident in a letter to Cal/OSHA District Manager Barbara Kim: “Bartlett Tree Experts fully recognizes the horrendous nature of this accident, and is highly sensitive to the fact that a valued person lost their life. As such, we have fully cooperated with Cal OSHA during its investigation, while simultaneously reviewing all pertinent internal safety processes, and taking every possible measure to help all affected team members begin to heal.”
F.A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company, which is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut and has an office in Portola Valley, could not be reached for comment at the time of filing this report.