A failure to properly stabilize a residential building balcony in Sea Isle, N.J. that later collapsed and improper securing of lifelines are among the findings of an investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration into the fatal accident in February.
Construction worker Jose Pereira, 43, was killed when concrete debris from the eighth-floor oceanfront balcony fell onto one below. OSHA issued Ferguson Contracting Inc., the Yardley, Pa., project contractor and Pereira’s employer, five violations and more than $18,000 in proposed fines, the agency announced Aug. 23.
Pereira was working on the exterior of the south tower of the Spinnaker Condominiums on Feb. 24, standing on the seventh-floor balcony when the one above him collapsed, pinning him underneath. Witnesses told police they heard Pereira’s screams for help, but he was pronounced dead at the scene later that day, police said.
OSHA says its investigation found that “the balcony was not inspected by a competent person as the work progressed to determine if shoring or bracing was needed.”
Also, Ferguson did not instruct employees on how to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, such as removing excessive amounts of concrete during the balcony repair, sawing through rebar in the balcony and shoring and stabilizing it prior to starting work.
Vertical lifelines were not fastened to a fixed safe point independent of the scaffold and were not protected from sharp edges and abrasion, OSHA found. Investigators also said a lifeline used for fall protection for a suspended scaffold “was anchored to a vent pipe.”
Ferguson was cited for failing “to furnish employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees who were exposed to the hazard of being caught in a structural collapse.”
OSHA said the contractor also failed to identify and evaluate the respiratory hazards in the workplace and had no written hazard communication program at the work site, including safety data sheets for chemicals that employees used, including cement, gas, and protective coatings.
Ferguson has no prior history of federal safety violations, according to OSHA.
Two other Ferguson workers, including Pereira’s brother, were on the eighth floor balcony when it collapsed, investigators say. Representatives from Spinnaker and Ferguson did not respond to requests for comment. The contractor had until Aug. 29 to make the first correction or face additional fines, according to the OSHA citations.
Pereira’s mother, Aurora Soto, said in a interview with CBS News 3 Philadelphia in February that her son’s death “should have been preventable.”
A GoFundMe page set up by Pereira's family has raised over $8,000 since the incident. He was a married father of three.