A Fleming Island golf ball recovery company faces about $56,000 in penalties after OSHA handed out a dozen citations in the Dec. 3 death of an employee diving for errant balls at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club.
The citations follow the deaths of three students from a troubled Jacksonville commercial diving training school that has been sued by two families and seen the state and a diving certification agency take action as well.
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The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s workplace safety inspectors said the 26-year-old diver, employed for only three days by Ballhawker of Florida Inc., failed to follow required safety standards that included having adequate supervision and required training.
“Ballhawker ignored safety standards and a young man lost his life,” OSHA Jacksonville Acting Area Office Director Erin Sanchez said. “Commercial divers are exposed to a variety of hazards, and it is an employer’s responsibility to not start a dive until it is safe.”
Ballhawker’s Florida business license states it incorporated on Aug. 30 at a Fleming Island home, while its company website lists 14 golf courses in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine, as customers. The company’s president and vice president could not be reached for comment and did not respond to emails sent to the website.
St. Johns County deputies and firefighters were called to the historic club on Ponte Vedra Boulevard on Dec. 3 after a man diving in a pond to recover golf balls was found unresponsive, the Sheriff’s Office previously said at the time. No other details were released.
OSHA investigated the death as work-related, stating a co-worker pulled the unidentified victim out of the water and asked a passing golfer to call 911. Taken to a hospital, the diver later died, the agency said.
Following its investigation, OSHA issued 12 citations against Ballhawker for what are all called serious violations, as seen on its 22-page report at bit.ly/3P6ftvY.
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“The employer or employee … was not at the dive location in charge of all aspects of the diving operation affecting the safety and health of dive team members,” one of the 12 citations reads. “… The employer exposed employee to drowning hazards, in that the employer failed to have a designated person-in-charge of all aspects of the diving operation affecting the safety and health of dive team members.”
OSHA found the company failed to “develop and maintain a safe practice manual” for divers and “did not comply” with all pre-dive requirements prior to their work, other citations state.
The company also did not provide a first aid book or a resuscitator at the dive location in case of an issue with an employee. Ballhawker “failed to ensure the dive equipment was inspected prior to usage,” test the equipment for air purity every six months or set up two-way communications between diver and team members, other citations read. And it did not ensure all dive team members are CPR-trained.
Inspectors also found that Ballhawker failed to keep records of workers and job details, including the time and location of the job and water and surface conditions.
3 deaths of students at CDA Technical Institute
As Ballhawker deals with OSHA, Jacksonville diving school CDA Technical Institute faces two wrongful death lawsuits following recent deaths of students.
A Tampa mother filed suit against the Trout River Drive school and one of its instructors following the September 2021 death of son Isaiah Johnson at a diving outing to celebrate their certification.
The family of Fausto Martins has also taken CDA Technical Institute to court after his April 14 death at the dive academy. He had complained of water leaking into his helmet during a training dive, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.
A third death was during a Feb. 10 final scuba certification at Flamingo Lake RV Park, where Victor Leroy Pierce Jr. was found unresponsive with his air tank mouthpiece out of his mouth underwater, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Pierce’s sister-in-law posted on Facebook that he remained on life support until his death on Feb. 28.
CDA is no longer affiliated with the Association of Diving Contractors International, while Florida’s Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew CDA’s approval to train veterans under the GI Bill, citing recent deaths and student complaints.
As for Ballhawker, it has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings before an independent review commission.
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