The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined a Florida contractor $69,168 for a scaffolding collapse that critically injured two men who were painting the interior of a municipal water tank last October.
The accident at the 160-foot West Elevated Storage Tank in Hollywood, FL, triggered a dramatic six-hour rescue operation by three local Technical Rescue Teams.
Both painters— Meliso Valderrabano, 22, of Jacksonville, FL, and Carlos Bustamante, 43, of Houston, TX—were in critical condition after the fall. Authorities said that Bustamante had shattered a hip and leg and that Valderrabano had suffered a spinal cord injury. The men survived the accident, but their current condition was not available Monday (Feb. 21).
‘Could Have Been Prevented’
The men were employees of M Brothers Painting Inc., of St. Augustine, FL, which OSHA cited Thursday (Feb. 17) with 15 serious and repeat safety violations.
Authorities said the accident occurred when a suspended scaffold device anchored to the outer surface of the roof hatch gave way, causing one side of the scaffold to collapse.
"If proper safety precautions had been taken, these injuries could have been prevented," said Darlene Fossum, OSHA's area director in Fort Lauderdale. "It is the employer's responsibility to ensure all aspects of OSHA's standards are followed."
M Brothers could not be reached for comment Monday. The company has previously declined comment on the accident.
The rescue operation was triggered by a cell phone call from Bustamante. (Valderrabano was unconscious after his fall.) Rescue teams had to climb the exterior of the tank, open ventilation hatches at the top, and install an additional ventilation system inside.
They then had to rappel down into the dark tank with medical supplies to reach the men. Finally, they had devise a system to immobilize and extricate the victims through a 24-inch access hatch at the top of the tank, then rappel alongside the men as they were lowered to the ground. The effort involved more than 30 rescue personnel.
Serious, Repeat Violations
OSHA issued 14 serious safety violations against M Brothers, with a proposed penalty of $59,928, for alleged failure to:
• Inspect the scaffold and its components for defects;
• Ensure the suspension scaffold device could rest on surfaces capable of supporting at least four times the load;
• Protect workers with adequate fall protection;
• Train workers to recognize the hazards associated with the use of shackles as anchor devices on supporting surfaces; and
• Provide a safety and health program that includes hazard prevention and control.
In addition, a repeat citation with a proposed penalty of $9,240 was issued for failing to equip the load end of the wire suspension rope with thimbles. The thimbles can prevent the wire from pitching and abrading while preventing the load from coming into direct contact with the wire.
Work on the project began in August. The $590,000 contract involved blast cleaning, recoating and other maintenance. OSHA made a planned inspection of the site Aug. 31 and, two weeks later, issued citations for four serious violations. The original fine was set at $5,100 but was reduced after an informal settlement to $3,825.
Those citations were related to alleged violations of standards involving respiratory protection, scaffolding requirements, and fall protection systems criteria and practices, according to OSHA records. The case remains open.
A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. A repeat citation is issued when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request a conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Other painters have perished while working on the Hollywood Water Tower, which was built in 1958.
In 1998, a worker fell to his death after he tried to jump from a moving ladder onto a catwalk of the tower, according to the Miami Herald. The 19-year-old had unhooked a safety harness to jump about 4½ feet down to a narrow catwalk. But the man hit the rail and lost his balance, falling to the ground, the newspaper reported
In 1983, a worker painting the inside of the tower died after a metal rod supporting him broke, sending him plummeting to the bowl-shaped bottom of the tower. Paramedics gave the man oxygen, and he was conscious for part of the effort, but he eventually lost unconscious and died of internal injuries, the Herald said.