Worker advocate calls for tougher scaffolding regulations
Posted March 26, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — As a state and federal investigation continues into the collapse of scaffolding at a downtown Raleigh high-rise Monday that killed three construction workers, crews on Thursday removed the rest of the scaffolding from the side of the building.
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.
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. Mike Hampton, chief operating officer for general contractor Choate Construction Co., has said subcontractor Associated Scaffolding was in the process of dismantling the scaffold when one of the tracks snapped off and fell into a twisted heap on the ground below.
Veteran scaffold builder Tom Hallman said he was on a job site in West Virginia six years ago where a co-worker died.
"It's not good. They shut the job down. It's like the area around here. You just kind of feel it in the air. It's sad, it's very sad," said Hallman, who is now an online advocate for more than 10,000 people in his industry.
He says the danger lies with antiquated federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules that apply the same safety guidelines to all types of scaffolding equally.
"I hate to say it, but most OSHA rules, they say in business, are written in blood, and here we go. There's need for a change," he said.
Hallman said mast climbers call for higher safety measures, such as "lifelines" that tether workers to a building and not just the platforms on which they stand.
"When you're tearing them down, when you demo them, when you get to that certain point that you have lifelines dropped (from the platform), if something fails, you've got that fail-safe," he said.
Authorities said it could take months to determine the cause of the accident and determine whether any workplace safety violations occurred.
Meanwhile, Rev. April Rhinehardt, the chaplain at nearby Shaw University, invited construction workers trying to cope with the tragedy to worship with Shaw students on Friday.
"We want to make sure that the community heals," Rhinehardt said, noting that many Shaw students witnessed the scaffolding collapse.
"I just believe in the sanctity and the preciousness of life, and to know that someone lost their life trying to build a building really does hurt," she said.
The prayer service is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. in the Thomas J. Boyd Chapel on campus. Spanish-speaking clergy will be there, and Rhinehardt said Shaw officials have reached out to all of the contractors on the Charter Square project to let them know everyone is welcome to attend.