A report from Utah Occupational Safety and Health accuses United Parcel Service in West Valley City of tampering with evidence connected to a fatal employee accident, lying to investigators and then trying to hide its actions.

The commission has issued a proposed fine to UPS of $71,700 for what it called "willful" and "serious" violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973. UPS will have a chance to challenge the suggested penalty before it is finally imposed.

"UPS respectfully disagrees with this citation and has served notice it will contest every aspect of this citation," UPS said in a statement released Tuesday.

Mark D. Hills was electrocuted while working at UPS, 2040 W. Parkway Blvd. (2600 South) on Aug. 19. Hills was trying to get a package that had fallen under a conveyor chute. He touched a large piece of machinery called a Mobile Distribution Unit (MDU) while lying on the ground to retrieve the package.

The MDU's grounding system was not working, and Hills' body provided the path to ground for the energized MDU, according to the UOSHA report.

But before UOSHA investigators could properly investigate the accident, UPS "deliberately and knowingly removed and/or altered equipment, materials or other evidence" related to the accident, according to the report.

The report further stated that after the equipment was removed, "such information was withheld from Utah OSHA personnel" by UPS management. It wasn't until the second day of UOSHA's investigation that UPS disclosed it had removed key evidence, according to the report.

"It was later discovered that UPS management personnel had explicit knowledge of suspect material and equipment related to the accident, that the material and equipment had been tampered with and removed from the scene, making the duplication of conditions impossible," according to the report.

The UOSHA report accused UPS management of having "intentional disregard for professional conduct and cooperation" and said the company "willfully provided misleading statements, if not false statements."

UPS responded Tuesday with a written statement by saying its thoughts were first and foremost with Hills' family and the company's concern was for the safety of all UPS employees.

The statement also pointed out that UOSHA had not cited UPS as specifically being responsible for the accident.

"All parties agree on the cause of this accident. Our employee was electrocuted as the result of a faulty ground in an improperly installed electrical junction box. This junction box was installed in a UPS facility by an independent contractor," according to the statement.

The UOSHA report said West Valley Police were initially called to UPS for a possible seizure. When West Valley police detective Aleeshia Stauffer arrived she noted that "the scene's integrity had been compromised," according to the report.

But West Valley police Capt. Craig Black said the scene was not compromised to the point that detectives could not conduct a criminal investigation. Black said there was nothing at the scene that pointed to criminal activity and his office has not been contacted by UOSHA to do a follow-up investigation.

As for being called to a possible seizure instead of an electrocution, Black said it wasn't unusual for information in initial 911 calls to be incomplete.

Hills family members referred all comments to their attorney Tuesday, who would say only that the matter was under investigation.

UPS also disputes the findings in the UOSHA report, stating that it was simply a "misunderstanding" and lack of communication over what to do with the equipment in question. Because of the confusion and panic of the situation, UPS management said it was "unfamiliar with appropriate legal actions to take regarding a fatality," the report stated.

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UOSHA's investigator responded by saying, "UPS has a documented history of dealings with OSHA (both federal and state), and to claim unawareness was not understandable or a feasible excuse," according to the report.

UPS said it took steps to immediately investigate a cause of the accident after it happened, according to the UPS statement.

For illegally removing equipment, UOSHA proposed a fine of $70,000. An additional $1,700 fine was proposed for UPS having an unprotected flexible cord.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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