PORTLAND — A panel of federal judges have stepped up pressure on the owner of Greene-based roofing company Lessard Roofing & Siding to pay $404,485 in fines and prove he has fixed various safety violations dating back to 2011.
Judges for the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals this week placed Stephen Lessard and two companies he owns in civil contempt of judgments against him from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The latest court action sets a 20-day deadline for Lessard to pay the fines and provide written proof that his company corrected conditions cited in 11 separate violations. If not, the court could decide to jail Lessard.
Regulators petitioned the court to find Lessard in contempt, they said, after inspections at 11 of the company’s worksites from 2003 to 2011 found that employees were exposed to various fall risks.
In July 2014, OSHA said it conducted a follow-up inspection and found that three employees were doing work without required fall protection.
The company was issued a $243,000 fine in 2011. OSHA’s area director for its Augusta office, Maryann Medeiros, testified in February that the fine was not paid and the company did not provide proof that the safety violations were resolved.
Lessard told The Associated Press at the time that his company had not willfully violated any rules and that the federal regulators had singled out his company.
But, Maryann Medeiros, OSHA’s area director in Maine, said in a prepared statement that, “This is scofflaw behavior by a serial violator who demonstrates contempt, not only for the law and the U.S. Court of Appeals, but for the safety and lives of his employees.”
And, she said, “What’s especially disturbing is that many of the violations involve fall hazards, which are the primary cause of death in construction work, the industry in which Mr. Lessard and his companies operate.”
According to the DOL, as recently as January, OSHA cited Lessard for “egregious willful, repeated and serious violations for fall-related hazards” at a Lewiston work site and fined him $287,000.
At the time, Lessard told the Sun Journal he hadn’t paid the fines because he can’t afford them.
“I don’t make that kind of money,” he said.
His small contracting business nets only about $60,000 a year, he said.
Lessard said he doesn’t understand why OSHA doesn’t focus on the large commercial contractors who employ many more workers than the half-dozen who work for him and who can afford to pay the fines OSHA imposes.
“They just need to separate it from big business and residential,” he said. “The way they’ve got it set up just doesn’t work,” he said.
Moreover, Lessard told the Sun Journal that his is one of the few contracting companies that actually does use harnesses — when they’re needed. But OSHA inspectors will simply wait to snap their pictures of violations the moment a worker unclips his rope from his harness to take a break or will take the picture before the worker clips onto the rope to start working, he said.
“We were making the attempt to have safety,” Lessard said. His company has even fired a worker for not taking necessary safety precautions.
In the 27 years he’s been in business, Lessard said none of his workers has sustained an injury from falling.
Lessard filed and was granted a motion in March to extend a deadline to respond to state regulators’ request for a finding of contempt against him.
He wrote in that motion in March that he had been unable to find an attorney and that he believed, based on conversations with officials at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Boston office, that he would be able to reach a settlement.
The Department of Labor wrote in May that the parties were unable to reach a settlement.
The Sun Journal contributed to this report.