Local News

Records: Subcontractor on fatal scaffolding collapse has spotty safety record

Posted March 25, 2015

An accident at a downtown Raleigh construction site killed three and injured another Monday, March 23, 2015. (Photo by WWREAVES Photography)

— A subcontractor that employed two of three construction workers killed Monday when scaffolding collapsed at a downtown Raleigh high-rise had been cited for four serious workplace safety violations in the last 10 years, according to federal records.

Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, Anderson Almeida, 33, both of Durham, and Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton, died in the accident at the 11-story Charter Square project on Fayetteville Street. Elmer Guevara, 53, was seriously injured and remains hospitalized at WakeMed, where family members said he underwent surgery Tuesday night.

The accident involved equipment known as a mast climber scaffold, which moves up and down a building's facade to take workers to different floors. As subcontractor Associated Scaffolding was in the process of dismantling the scaffold, one of the tracks snapped off and fell into a twisted heap on the ground below, said Mike Hampton, chief operating officer for general contractor Choate Construction Co.

WRAL News has confirmed that two of the victims, Hernandez and Lopez-Ramirez, worked for subcontractor Juba Aluminum Products Co. Inc. in Concord and its subsidiary, Jannawall Inc. The two companies install glass and aluminum building exteriors.

"We are deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of two of our Jannawall team members," Juba officials said in a statement. "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."

Guevara has worked for Associated Scaffolding for 17 years, his family said. Almeida also worked for the firm, according to his Facebook page.

The state Department of Labor has inspected Juba work sites eight times in the last 15 years, and inspectors have cited the company for serious violations four times, according to a database maintained by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A November 2009 violation involved the "correct procedures for erecting, disassembling, moving, operating, repairing, inspecting, and maintaining the type of scaffold in question."

An April 2006 violation involved the method for stabilizing "suspension scaffold outrigger beams" while two March 2005 violations were related to inspecting scaffolding for physical defects before each work shift and using separate anchoring devices for platforms and for worker harnesses.

Jannawall has no state record of workplace safety violations.

OSHA records show Associated Scaffolding was issued serious safety violations twice in North Carolina in the past 10 years. A 2007 citation was related to access equipment for scaffold platforms, while a 2008 citation was related to storage of welding materials.

Hampton said the company's only job at the site was erecting and dismantling the scaffolding.

Records show that Choate has been inspected 20 times in North Carolina in the past 10 years and was cited for one violation, which wasn't considered serious.

A team of about a dozen investigators from the Labor Department conducted interviews Tuesday, took photos of the site and inspected equipment. OSHA inspectors were expected on the site Wednesday.

Authorities said it could take months to determine the cause of the accident and determine whether any violations occurred.

Work, mourning proceed at site

Work continued Wednesday inside Charter Square, a mix of residences, office space and retail shops, but no one was working on the outside of the building. Hampton said many workers are taking advantage of the grief counseling Choate is offering.

Meanwhile, people continue to bring flowers to a memorial to the workers that has sprung up in front of the building.

"It makes me sad because they have family. I just imagine how their kids, how they feel," said Axiri Gasga, who visited the memorial with her father, a construction worker, to pay their respects.

Hernandez's cousin, Marco Claros, drove his family from New York to Raleigh to see where Hernandez died.

"I see this on the news in New York. It's my first time here. I never come here," Claros said. "(It's) hard for my family and the rest of the people here."


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