Victor Javier Cajija Gamboa was wearing fall protection gear on the morning of April 29, as he guided a beam into place atop the paint building at the $7.6-billion Hyundai Metaplant America project in Bryan County, Ga. But when Gamboa lost his balance and fell, the sharp edge of a steel beam severed his safety line. He fell 60 ft to his death.

Gamboa, 35, was the fifth jobsite death since 2016 of workers employed by Geismar, La.-based steel contractor Eastern Constructors Inc., according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This month, OSHA announced it cited Eastern for one willful and one serious violation over the Gamboa’s fatality. Also, it added the contractor to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

OSHA proposed Eastern pay $160,724 in penalties for the alleged violations. Officials say the contractor failed to inspect personal fall arrest systems prior to use. Gamboa’s safety gear was “worn and damaged” and the self-retractable lifeline could not withstand the beam’s sharp edges, according to the citations

Eastern has 15 days after receiving the citations to respond to OSHA. The company did not immediately return calls from ENR.

OSHA officials say Eastern is in the severe violator program because of its “plain indifference and willful violation.” The previous deaths also resulted in serious and willful violations related to steel erection and fall protection. 

“Eastern Constructors' failure to protect its employees from the leading cause of death in the construction industry are inexcusable and resulted in tragic consequences,” said Jessica Bookman, OSHA’s acting area office director in Savannah, Ga., in a statement. 

In a 2020 case summarized in OSHA records, two Eastern employees working on an Amazon distribution center in Virginia were killed while using aerial lifts to connect a steel beam to the fifth floor. As a crane was hoisting the beam into position, the structure collapsed. Falling materials struck the lifts, causing both workers to fall about 54 ft. OSHA fined Eastern a total of $170,534 for one willful and three serious violations in the incident. 

OSHA uses its Severe Violator Enforcement Program to leverage mandatory follow-up inspections for employers it deems to have repeatedly demonstrated indifference to safety requirements. Last year, officials widened the criteria they use to classify employers as severe violators. 

Metaplant Project Ongoing

Hyundai Engineering is the general contractor for Hyundai Motor Group and a joint venture of Hyundai with LG Energy Solution for an electric vehicle plant and a 30-GWh onsite battery cell plant at the Metaplant America site. The project was ENR Southeast’s top start of 2022.

In August, the joint venture announced an additional $2-billion investment in the project, raising the total cost to an estimated $7.6 billion, according to Hyundai.

Gamboa was one of 13 Eastern employees that worked at the Georgia site, according to OSHA. As of last month, Hyundai said there were about 2,000 construction workers at the 3,000-acre site. 

Foundations are substantially complete and about 81% of the more than 27,000 tons of steel in the frame was erected as of Oct. 25.

The automaker has said it aims to begin production in 2025 with a capacity of 300,000 vehicles per year.