You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 6:03 a.m.

Ann Arbor Township, state officials investigate company managing site where 3 workers were injured in explosion

By Art Aisner

Ann Arbor Township fire officials are expected to meet today with investigators from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to review the work-site explosion that injured three people late last month.

Fire Chief Rick Ericson said he will provide reports to the investigators that could lead to additional scrutiny of the company managing the site, Posen Construction, which is also under federal investigation after years of safety concerns in both Michigan and Florida, safety-inspection records show.

Shortly after 8 a.m. on Dec. 23, emergency personnel rushed to the area of Dixboro Road, just south of Plymouth Road, after receiving reports of an explosion with multiple injuries. Three men working in a lift station roughly 30 feet below ground were burned when propane gas that had filled the chamber ignited, Ericson said.

Despite their injuries, the men rescued one another before firefighters arrived.

Two were released from the hospital within days, and a third is still undergoing treatment, Ericson said. The men’s names have not been released, and further information about any of their conditions was unavailable.

Investigators learned the men used a torch at the site to keep warm, and it was left on overnight. Ericson said the torch was strapped to the scaffolding and eventually went out. 

The propane leaked from the 100-pound tank overnight, and the workers didn’t follow standard practices while trying to reignite the heating device that morning, he said. The flash fire extended out of the top of the trench.

"Safety First"

If MIOSHA pursues violations, it won't be the first time Posen Construction’s safety record has come under fire.

Officials with the Shelby Township-based company didn't return messages from last week or Monday.

Officials with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are still investigating procedures that may have allowed a subcontractor to drive a road mixer over a natural gas line that ruptured during a major road construction project in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Nov. 11, records show. The driver was injured in the ensuing explosion, and more than 7,000 residents were without gas service for about a week, according to published reports.

The county administering that project is suing Posen for alleged asbestos dumping at the site, Florida court records show. About a dozen subcontractors have also filed claims of non-payment against the company, totaling roughly $750,000. 

Between 2005 and 2010, OSHA conducted nearly two dozen inspections of Posen projects and reported 103 citations, reports said. Twenty of those were for serious safety violations, and six were designated as repeat offenses. The company paid more than $100,000 in related fines.

Records show the majority of the violations occurred in Michigan. The company also was cited for one incident similar to the Ann Arbor Township explosion in Toledo, reports show. Ohio authorities fined Posen $54,000 for not providing protective gear to workers while they were cutting with a metal torch in a trench. The workers were burned, and the company was also penalized for leaving them vulnerable to a trench collapse.

Ericson said he was made aware of the company’s record and would be sharing his concerns with MIOSHA officials.

“It speaks to the safety procedures, and the policies and practices they have in place as a company, and we’ll make it known that they were not adequate in this situation,” he said.

According to its website, the company opened in 1980 and expanded to Florida in 1997. It offers general contracting services for highways and bridges, municipal water and sewage facility, community parks and commercial buildings.

Ann Arbor Township’s utilities department hired Posen to complete roughly $400,000 in upgrades to the sewage life station. Other local clients include Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ann Arbor, which chose the company for its Lime Sludge Lagoon Improvements Project in July 2009 for $275,808, city records show.

The company website has a page dedicated to safety and states it is committed to employee safety and stays current with regulations.

Ericson said he’s also in the process of compiling the invoice for reimbursement of services provided by emergency personnel after the explosion. He would not provide an estimate, but noted the county’s Hazardous Materials Response Team and technical rescue teams responded to the scene. Ann Arbor Township firefighters remained there for at least 30 hours monitoring the propane levels in the shaft until the gas dissipated.

Art Aisner is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 1:08 p.m.

Let's see how much money the State of MI government will budget for MIOSHA. Or will Snyder consider it too much business regulation and cut back on inspections, regulations and cap legal fines for offenders?


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 8:56 a.m.

5 years, $100K in fines. That is chump change to a company with the size of their contracts! When a company bids these jobs the cities and municipalities need to look at their safety records from the previous 5 years. Lowest bid doesn't always bode well for the burned workers and 7,000 residents without gas. Fines are too small. Make the fine a larger percentage of the total contract and see if that doesn't wake them up.