News Release

Department of Labor finds cement manufacturer failed to protect employee who drowned in Mississippi River after falling from barge

Buzzi Unicem USA failed to make sure employees wore personal flotation devices

NATCHEZ, MS – Federal workplace safety inspectors have determined that one of the nation’s leading cement manufacturers could have prevented a 50-year-old employee from drowning after falling from a barge into the Mississippi River in February 2023.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration into the fatal incident found three employees of Buzzi Unicem USA, which operates as River Cement Sales Co., boarded a barge without wearing personal floatation devices. Shortly after climbing to a second deck to repair a blocked valve, one of the workers fell head-first into the river from the barge’s side. Co-workers tried unsuccessfully to rescue their colleague and the remains weren’t recovered until nearly a month later.

OSHA’s inspectors identified five serious violations by the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based company. Specifically, the agency found the company failed to make sure employees wore personal flotation devices when exposed to drowning hazards, did not install guardrails to protect workers from falling into the water and failed to train employees in first aid. In addition, an eyewash station was not installed for workers exposed to corrosive materials. The company faces $62,500 in proposed penalties.

“Buzzi Unicem USA could have prevented this tragedy by making sure employees wore the personal protective equipment that was readily available,” said OSHA Area Office Director Courtney Bohannon in Jackson, Mississippi. “Employers have a legal responsibility to provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. This employer’s failures cost a worker his life and leaves family, friends, and loved ones with an unfillable void in their own lives.”

Buzzi Unicem USA sells brick, stone and related construction materials manufactured at cement plants in Greencastle, Indiana; Cape Girardeau and Festus, Missouri; Pryor, Oklahoma; Stockertown, Pennsylvania; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Maryneal, Texas. The company also operates 30 cement terminals across the U.S. to distribute the cement into 21 states. Buzzi Unicem USA employs about 1,300 employees.  

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Visit OSHA’s website for information on commercial diving safety and standards. Employers can also contact the agency  about OSHA’s compliance assistance resources and  its free help for complying with OSHA standards.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration
August 17, 2023
Release Number
Media Contact: Eric R. Lucero
Phone Number
Media Contact: Erika Ruthman
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