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Roofing firm owner pleads guilty to criminal charges in worker death

Posted On: Dec. 10, 2015 12:00 AM CST

A Pennsylvania roofing company owner pleaded guilty Wednesday to criminal charges in connection with an employee's fatal fall and will face prison time when sentenced next year.

James J. McCullagh of Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to one count of willfully violating an Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation by causing death to an employee, four counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Pennsylvania.

The guilty plea stems from a June 2013 incident in which a worker who was not provided with fall protection fell 45 feet from a roof while performing roofing repairs on a church in Philadelphia, according to government news releases.

“No penalty can bring back the life of this employee, but the outcome in this case will send a clear message that when employers blatantly and willfully ignore worker safety and health responsibilities, resulting in death or serious injury to workers, or lie to or obstruct OSHA investigators, we will pursue enforcement to the fullest extent of the law, including criminal prosecution,” David Michaels, OSHA's assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement.

Mr. McCullagh faces a maximum statutory sentence of 25 years in prison, a possible fine, supervised release and a $510 special assessment when his scheduled sentencing hearing takes place in March 2016, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In connection with the OSHA investigation of the fatality, Mr. McCullagh attempted to cover up his failure to provide fall protection by falsely stating, on four occasions, that he had provided fall protection equipment, including safety harnesses, to his employees, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He also directed other employees to falsely state that they had fall protection, including safety harnesses, on the day of the fall, according to the release.

His company, James J. McCullagh Roofing Inc., still faces civil penalties totaling $71,600 for 10 willful and serious OSHA violations, with the case pending before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, according to OSHA.

Mr. McCullagh and the company could not be immediately reached for comment.