Three killed in Raleigh scaffolding collapse: Investigation begins into cause

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Three construction workers were killed and a fourth was injured in a scaffolding collapse on March 24 at the Charter Square project, setting in motion grief for the families of the victims, and raising challenging safety questions and investigations.

Following the accident, the N.C. Department of Labor has asked that Choate Construction largely freeze work on the exterior of 11 story building, the News and Observer reports.

The disaster as workers were dismantling a “mast climber” on the new Fayetteville St. office building, where track ripped from the building, sending a platform falling several stories and landing upside down.

Several climbing platforms ring the nearly-completed building. State safety officials want the general contractor have an engineer assess those systems before they return to service.

“We have asked that the other scaffolds not be used,” Kevin Beauregard, assistant deputy commissioner at the Labor Department, told the Raleigh newspaper. “We don’t want to put anyone else in harm’s way.”

It could take three to six months for Labor Department investigators to determine what caused the collapse.

The city of Raleigh identified the workers who were killed as Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, of Durham; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton, and Anderson Almeida, 33, of Durham. The injured man is Elmer Guevara, 53, whose hometown wasn’t released.

Two of the men who died worked for Juba Aluminum Products Co. of Concord, and one worked for KEA Contracting Inc. of Raleigh, according to Department of Labor spokesman Neal O’Briant, citing “preliminary information.”

The Labor Department’s investigation will include interviews with workers, other witnesses and the manufacturer of the equipment; authorities have not disclosed the name of the manufacturer.

The inspectors will look at many possible explanations, Beauregard was quoted as saying.

The News and Observer report continued:

“Overloading issues, eccentric loading issues, the load may not have been on center. We’ll take a look at wind – it was fairly windy the other day,” he said. The review, including structural engineers, also will address the bracing and anchoring of the system.

The investigation likely will show how many of the victims were aboard the platform. Several witnesses reported that they saw men falling. Images from the scene showed that at least one of the men was wearning a harness, but it is unclear what anchor he was tethered to.

North Carolina’s laws say that workers on some types of scaffolding, such as suspension platforms used by window washers, must have independent lifelines that attach them to the building itself.

But those lines are not required for mast lifters in North Carolina, Beauregard said. North Carolina’s occupational safety rules don’t specifically address the lifters, although they are regulated by the general scaffolding rules. Neither the state nor the city of Raleigh regularly inspect the structures, instead requiring that construction contractors bring on properly trained inspectors and engineers.

“I’m not aware of any municipality with specific requirements for scaffolding,” Beauregard said.

Juba Aluminum Products issued a statement, saying:

We are deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of two of our Jannawall team members. While the details of the incident are under investigation, we are working closely with the contractor and local authorities to ensure the safety of all our employees. Our prayers and thoughts are with our employees and their families and, everyone affected by this incident.

KEA Contracting’s website did not mention the incident but observed:

KEA Contracting is committed to the safety of all of our employees in this extremely high risk industry.

Our safety program includes monthly safety meetings, weekly tool box talks, weekly site safety by our OSHA  trained Safety Manager. KEA also offers OSHA 10 and 30 seminars. Preliminary at-hire drug testing is mandatory.

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