Deadly Austin Scaffold Mishap Puts Spotlight on Safety Problem
The scaffolding accident that killed three workers on an Austin high-rise apartment building has underscored what some local researchers and safety advocates believe are safety problems in the city’s construction sector.
One week after an 11th floor scaffolding collapsed June 10 at a 21-story apartment tower, killing three workers, contractor Andres Construction, has resumed work on the $40-million structure, says the owner of the building. It is set to house students and faculty at the nearby University of Texas campus.
Four men were working on a scaffold between the building¹s 11th and 13th floors when part of it collapsed, says Harry Evans, an Austin Fire Dept battalion chief. Two men fell about 100 ft to the ground and were pronounced dead at the scene. Another fell on to the roof of a seven-story parking garage and died a few hours later in the hospital. The fourth worker hung on to the scaffold until rescued and received minor injuries.
The project’s owner, MacArthur Management LLC, Dallas, identified the dead workers as Wilson Joel Irias Cerritos, 30, and Jesus Angel Lopez Perez, 28, both of Honduras, and Raudel Ramirez Camacho, 27, of Mexico.
The project’s Austin-based contractor and its scaffolding manufacturer and rental firm, American Mast Climbers, Whitney, Texas, declines comment, as did the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, citing ongoing investigations. It is unclear whether the scaffolding was erected, maintained and inspected by the rental firm or the contractor.
The deaths focused attention on construction safety problems in Austin. According to a study released June 16 by the Austin-based Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas, one in five Austin-area construction workers surveyed required medical attention for injuries suffered on the job—far too many, according to one safety advocate. Emily Timm, coordinator of the project’s workplace justice program, says, “Our organization receives thousands of calls and complaints every year of labor abuses and workplace injury, and 85% of those cases were coming from the construction industry.”
The report also indicates that 64% of local workers surveyed lack “basic health and safety training, and many were forced to provide their own safety equipment...”
The three men who died were Latino, and the Austin local media painted a picture of poorer working conditions for immigrants, particularly Spanish-speaking ones. Timm says the concerns about safety apply to all workers, however. “We don’t see it as an issue specific to Latinos, but affecting workers across the board, including whites and non-immigrants.”
Statewide, 142 construction workers died on the job in 2007, making Texas the most dangerous state in the country for construction, the report says.
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