Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Hispanic Construction Worker Dies After Fall from an Improvised Scaffold
On October 1,2003, a 66-year-old Hispanic carpenter died after he fell from the plank of an improvised scaffold at a construction site. The victim had arrived that day from his home in Costa Rica and was joining his son (the company owner) to work on the construction of an addition to a private, suburban home. The victim was standing on a single, wooden plank placed between a small roof peak and an improvised scaffold made from discarded scrap lumber. He was installing siding on the house when he turned to talk to his son, who had just returned to the jobsite after running an errand. As he turned, the victim apparently lost his balance and fell, striking the sidewalk 10'5" below. NJ FACE investigators recommend the following safety guidelines to prevent similar incidents:
On October 19,2003, a private citizen notified a NJ FACE investigator of the death of a Hispanic construction worker who had fallen at a construction site. A FACE investigation was initiated on October 21,2003, and the county Medical Examiner and the victim's employer were contacted. The employer explained that federal OSHA was investigating the incident and that he was scheduled to go to OSHA for an informal conference. The FACE investigator offered to accompany him to informal conference. On October 23,2003, the FACE investigator and employer arrived at OSHA, and the FACE investigator received permission from OSHA to observe the conference. At that time, the investigator was able to discuss the case with OSHA compliance officers and to briefly interview the employer. Following the conference, the FACE investigator visited and photographed the incident site. Additional information was obtained from the police, emergency medical service, and medical examiner's reports.
The victim's employer was a small construction company who specialized in private home renovations. The company had been in business for four years and had three employees at the time of the incident. The owner was an immigrant from Costa Rica who hired other Hispanic laborers as needed. He spoke functional English, but communicated with his workers in Spanish. Before coming to the United States, the company owner stated that he had worked with his father for most of his life in Costa Rica. He stated that he was not aware of OSHA or that federal safety standards existed. His father, the victim in this incident, was a 66-year-old experienced carpenter who was a resident of Costa Rica. He periodically traveled to the United States to work with his son, and had been doing so for the past four years. His son described him as being healthy and in good physical condition.
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The incident occurred at a single-family house located in a heavily suburbanized area. The house was a single-story, wood-framed structure with a tall, peaked roof. The owner wanted to convert the attic into living space by raising the roof and adding dormers. The home owner contacted the company owner and contracted for him to do the carpentry work. Other contractors were hired to do the plumbing and electrical work. A building permit was obtained for the job, naming the victim's company as the general contractor of record.
Prior to the incident, the contractor and his crew had already demolished and rebuilt most of the rear section of the house. The crew removed the entire back section of the peaked roof, which had been built at a slope of approximately 45 degrees. All the discarded wood trusses and surrounding lumber from the rear roof was piled in the backyard of the house. They then rebuilt the roof at a pitch of approximately 10 degrees, effectively raising the roof of the house and greatly increasing the interior space. The rear wall was raised to support the new roof, and new windows were installed in the wall. This part of the project was done quickly to reduce the time the house was open to the weather. Once the new addition was built, the crew started installing vinyl siding on the outside of the house. The crew also started work on the interior of the addition. During the project, the crew built an improvised, homemade scaffold with the discarded lumber from the back yard. This scaffold was poorly built, using wood that had been damaged during the demolition (See Photo 1).
The incident occurred on Wednesday, October 1,2003. The weather was clear with a reported temperature of 75 degrees. The company owner and a crew of three workers arrived at 8:00 a.m. to continue work on the house, which they had started the week before. The day went uneventfully, with the workers installing vinyl siding on the house. At approximately 4:30 p.m., the victim arrived at the jobsite after just having flown in that day from Costa Rica. The company owner (his son) was away from the work site to get a gutter, so the victim started installing siding on the side of the house. He was standing on a 2" by 6" wood plank set 10" 5" above a concrete walkway. One end of the plank was placed on the peak of a small porch roof, and the other end rested on the improvised scaffold at the back of the house.
A short time later, the company owner arrived back at the house and greeted his father. The victim, who was bending and cutting siding, turned around to talk to him, apparently lost his balance, and fell from the narrow plank. He fell to the concrete, striking his head and losing consciousness. At 5: 10 p.m., the police received a 9 1 1 call from a neighbor who saw the victim on the ground. EMS responded at 5: 15 p.m. and arrived at the scene within a minute. They found the victim conscious but disoriented and combative, and transported him to a NJ Level 1 Trauma Center where he underwent surgery for severe head injuries. The victim's condition deteriorated, and he was pronounced dead on October 2,2004, at 11:20 p.m.
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Recommendation #1: Construction contractors should be aware of federal OSHA safety standards for the construction industry.
Discussion: The employer in this incident was a small construction contractor who received all of his training in Costa Rica. When he started his business in New Jersey, he was unaware of OSHA safety standards that he needed to follow. To prevent future incidents, it is important that new companies are aware of applicable safety, health, and environmental standards.
Currently, there is no comprehensive method to notify employers of safety and health standards and regulations. NJ FACE recommends creating a system for informing new employers about the regulations that they must follow. One possibility is a simple, comprehensive resource booklet given to new employers when the business is incorporated or registered. The booklet would outline the different regulatory agencies with telephone numbers to obtain more information. A web site would also be useful, such as a site where employers could enter their type of business and location (state) to get specific information on the regulations that apply to their business.