NISKAYUNA — A federal labor investigation found that a worker who fell at a Niskayuna construction site in March and later died had unhooked his safety harness from a lifeline just moments before the fall. A witness told investigators the worker unhooked himself in an attempt to untangle his leg from the lifeline.
A lifeline is a nylon or polyester-blend length of rope that’s anchored to stop a fall at height.
Wilfredo Vazquez, 37, died on March 13 after falling 24 feet to the ground, according to an inspection report by the Occupational Safety and Health Organization obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
The accident occurred at the Iroquois Village Apartments development on Alice Wagner Way in Niskayuna. Vasquez and other workers were performing carpentry work on a small ledge just prior to the fall, said the report.
“The only witness to the fall stated that Mr. Vasquez was attached to a rope lifeline, his leg was tangled in the lifeline and he unhooked his lanyard from the dorsal D ring of the harness. While trying to untangle the lifeline, he fell to the ground,” according to the inspection report.
Niskayuna firefighters were called to the scene around 11:30 a.m. on March 13. Vasquez was transported via ambulance to General Electric on River Road in Niskayuna before being airlifted to Albany Medical Center. Vasquez died later that day from injuries he sustained in the fall.
Following the accident, Department of Labor spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said OSHA was investigating three firms attached to the Iroquois Village project: Ballston Mourningkill Associates LLC, the general contractor on the project, Rankin Construction National Builders, LLC, a subcontractor, and Hernandez Framing Inc., a Rankin subcontractor providing framing work.
Hernandez Framing was hit with $15,143 in fines after the OSHA inspection and investigation, but it’s unclear how closely related the violations are to Vasquez’s death.
The company received a $2,673 penalty for a “serious” violation because during the investigation it was found employees were improperly securing their lifelines.
Hernandez faced a second serious violation and $12,471 penalty for failing to provide steps or a ladder where there was a break in elevation of 19 inches or more on the site. The inspection report said employees accessed an exterior walking surface by climbing through a wall opening that measured 2’ 10” from the floor to the bottom of the opening.
OSHA interviews with employees of Hernandez Framing were conducted in Spanish, the inspection report noted. The report also noted under a heading called “Incident causes” that “the employee unhooked his harness dorsal D ring from his [lifeline] prior to falling 24 feet.”
Under a heading called “Incident related issues,” the report says Hernandez Framing had not provided fall protection training to their employees, did not ensure there was a competent party to inspect the job site and the work involved, did not evaluate the fall protection training provided by a previous employer, and did not have a general accident prevention program.
Hernandez Framing is based in Dallas, Texas, according to the report. OSHA interviewed owner Raul Hernandez via telephone and asked him to provide health and safety training records, “but no records were received,” said the report.
“[Raul Hernandez] stated that the employees of the crew involved received training for a job in Boston, [Massachusetts] by Patriot Framing,” said the report. “Patriot Framing’s management was contacted by telephone and stated that they had previously supplied fall protection training to the crew of Hernandez Framing and agreed to supply the training records. The records were not received by OSHA.”
Contact information for Raul Hernandez or other company officials could not be found. It’s unclear if Hernandez Framing paid the violation or is appealing OSHA’s findings. Department of Labor spokesman Jim Lally said two weeks ago that the agency is still trying to determine if Hernandez received the citations.
“OSHA is awaiting confirmation that Hernandez Framing received its citations, so this case is still open,” said Lally in an email Oct. 12. “Once received, the employer has 15 business days to comply, meet with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.”
Lally did not immediately return a request for comment by press time Tuesday when the FOIL request was received by this newspaper.
Rankin Construction was cited with an “other than serious” violation and penalized $400 for not including in their fall protection plan a list of workers’ names for those individuals who were authorized to be on the construction site.
Lally said Oct. 12 that Rankin settled with OSHA and wound up paying $300 of the original $400 fine. A spokeswoman for Rankin Construction, based in Ft. Worth, Texas, did not return calls and an email requesting comment.
OSHA did not cite Ballston Mourningkill Associates in connection with the incident.
Lally previously said OSHA drafted a letter to explain their findings to Vasquez’s family, but the letter is not public information. He added Hernandez Framing was cited for two serious violations that were issued under the “fall protection standard.”
“A serious violation exists when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation,” he said.
Lally said Hernandez Framing and Ballston Mourningkill Associates had no prior inspections in the last five years. Rankin Construction was inspected in 2012 and cited for two serious violations while working on a senior housing project in Rexford called Coburg Village.