Federal authorities are investigating how a safety-conscious, experienced shipwright fell nearly 100 feet to his death in a Seattle shipyard.
“To say we are absolutely cooperating [in the investigation] would be an understatement,” Steve Hirsh, spokesman for Vigor Shipyards Inc., said Wednesday (Feb. 8). “We are anxious to find out what happened.”
William “Bull” Ben Shelby fell 75 to 100 feet shortly after noon Friday, apparently striking scaffolding on the way down, according to the Seattle Fire Department. He died at the scene. There were no witnesses to the accident.
‘Terrific Safety Record’
Shelby’s supervisor found him when he went to check on Shelby, who had been out of touch for a few minutes, Hirsh said.
Shelby was wearing fall protection when he was found, Hirsh said.
“He was very conscious of that. He was very aware of safety. He has a terrific safety record with us,” said Hirsh. “He has a file an inch or two thick of his safety training.”
Work was halted immediately, and a safety stand-down was ordered.
Inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene, investigating.
The accident occurred one year after Portland-based Vigor bought the 94-year-old shipyard from Seattle-based Todd Pacific Shipyards. Shelby had worked for the company since 2006. Parent company Vigor Industrial LLC also owns Specialty Finishes, a marine blasting and coating concern; Vigor Marine; and other subsidiaries.
Vigor Shipyards Inc.
|Vigor Industrial LLC bought the Seattle shipyard last year from Todd Pacific Shipyards.|
The yard has had no issues with OSHA since Vigor took over last February, records show. “Under Vigor, a good record has been getting better,” said Hirsh.
The company conducts both daily and bi-weekly safety briefings, and managers sign off on the bi-weekly sessions, he said.
Shelby, based in Bremerton, was temporarily assigned to a Seattle crew working on restoring the arctic drilling rig Kulluk. Hirsh did not know Shelby’s duties but said the project had been proceeding smoothly.
A funeral was scheduled for Thursday (Feb. 9); Shelby, who would have turned 40 on Feb. 22, leaves behind a wife, two sons, a daughter, two stepdaughters and a stepson.
Anyaku2419 / Flickr
|William “Bull” Ben Shelby was working on the restoration of the drilling rig Kulluk when he was fatally injured.|
Work has been slowly resuming, but co-workers remain shocked and quiet, Hirsh said.
“It’s tough,” said Hirsh. “People think the men and women in shipyards are really tough, but this has been hard. He was a good guy. He was a friend.”
Both the company and Shelby’s co-workers are awaiting answers.
“We’re very eager to hear what OSHA has to say,” said Hirsh. “If there are procedures that need to be changed, we’ll change them. Period.”