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Employees: Safety concerns common at Loveland before ski worker's death

OSHA's preliminary report finds 13 violations
Posted at 4:04 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 22:46:58-04

DENVER -- Current and former employees of Loveland Ski Area tell Contact7 Investigates safety violations like the one that cost a lift mechanic his life were common before the worker’s December death.

Some of the concerns of workers are echoed in a preliminary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report issued earlier this month which proposes close to $65,000 in fines against Loveland Ski Area for 13 safety violations linked to Lee’s death. 

“I hope the managers, the owners of Loveland… stop trying to cut corners, stop trying to save money, that they start caring about their workers and the lives of their families,” employee Tyler Harbert told Contact7 Investigates.

Adam Lee was found dead Dec. 28, crushed beneath the Magic Carpet conveyer belt. Skiers and snowboarders stand on the conveyer belt to be transported up the hill.

Industry standards and the manufacturer of the conveyer belt say maintenance should not be performed when the belts are still running. The belt is equipped with a device that is supposed to shut it off during maintenance and prevent anyone from turning it back on while workers are underneath it.

But numerous employees told Contact7 Investigates they routinely saw lift mechanics going under the Magic Carpet while it was running. 

“This is something I have personally seen. Not [Lee], but other lift mechanics, I've seen go under the carpets while they are running,” Harbert said. “It's standard practice. It's a rare thing when they shut down those carpets, and when they do, they make sure they get them up as soon as possible."

Harbert’s husband, a current Loveland employee, shared her safety concerns.

“I've heard stories from the past of people getting caught at Loveland in the conveyer or the Magic Carpet. They survived, luckily, but this is a known thing,” Todd Harbert said. 

A third employee, who agreed to speak to Contact7 Investigates only if her identity was withheld, referred to the Magic Carpet as a death trap. 

“I just saw people not taking this machine seriously when it was obvious that people could get seriously hurt under the right conditions,” she said.

According to a Clear Creek County sheriff’s incident report about Lee’s death, another employee told investigators, “They always go underneath the lift when it’s running.” 

Loveland Ski Area declined interview requests and did not respond to specific allegations raised by current and former employees. The ski area did send a statement, reading: 

Loveland Ski Area is examining and assessing the findings received this week from OSHA.   Upon completion of our assessment of the findings we will timely and appropriately respond to OSHA.  

We continue to mourn the death of Adam Lee and extend our thoughts to his widow, children, family, and friends. 

Adam Lee left behind his wife, Erika, and four children. 

Erika said her husband was a dedicated employee who deserved better safety precautions. 

“I just really want to know what happened to him,” Erika Lee said. “When you take a good man and a good employee and you pretend like maybe it was his fault, maybe he did something wrong … his memory is under attack.”

OSHA proposes nearly $65K in fines

On May 3 OSHA issued its report on Lee’s death, finding 13 “serious” safety violations and proposing fines totaling $64,673. 

The violations found by OSHA included failing to implement written procedures for employee entry into the crawl space under the Magic Carpet where Lee died, failure to train employees about those procedures, each exposing employees to the “hazards of getting caught in the rollers and moving parts.” 

OSHA’s preliminary findings also said Loveland did not develop and document "energy control procedures" to ensure the Magic Carpet could not be turned on when an employee was working under it. 

“This condition resulted in the fatality of a maintenance employee who was caught in the rollers and moving parts,” the report says. 

The ski area has until the end of the month to abate the violations and potentially reduce the fines.