Daniel Island Construction Worker Falls to His Death
A fatal construction accident on Daniel Island last week is a tragic reminder of the importance of worker safety.
Taurino Bueso Romero, 38, slipped and fell 21 feet off the roof of a house on Delahow Street Sept. 13. An employee of Mejia Brother Construction of Goose Creek, he was pronounced dead at the Medical University Hospital.
Romero’s death was disturbing news at The Daniel Island Company, which oversees the many construction projects currently underway on the island.
“Our company was shocked and saddened by this tragic news,” said company spokesperson Julie Dombrowski. “With construction projects of varying types and sizes located all over the island, safety is an ongoing concern and addressing and enforcing precautionary procedures has always been a priority.”
She said The Daniel Island Company is going to bring an OSHA consultant in for a seminar for island homebuilders to make sure everyone is up to speed on current OSHA safety regulations.
“All of the contractors that work directly for The Daniel Island Company have monthly safety and educational meetings,” Dombrowski said. “One of our key contractors, OL Thompson, worked on the new Cooper River Bridge, and we benefited greatly from the safety knowledge they gained on this project.”
The homebuilders on Daniel Island are all independent contractors and consideration of safety records is a key part of the review process for companies seeking to build here, Dombrowski said. They are required to disclose on their application whether they have ever had their builder’s license suspended or revoked. They also have to provide a true and complete copy of their general commercial liability insurance policy.
“From what I understand the subcontractor had supplied all of the proper safety equipment,” she added. “This individual chose not to wear it. According to OSHA’s rules, a small contractor cannot direct an employee of a subcontractor in safety matters, it must come through the subcontractor’s supervisor.”
Dombrowski said OSHA has already cleared the builder in this case and he expects his subcontractor to be cleared this week, which would indicate that they were in compliance.
A workplace fatality is a traumatic experience for families and fellow workers, according to longtime Daniel Island resident Greg Rawls. He is occupational health and safety manager for Alcoa Primary Metals Division, which employs around 10,000 people.
“Imagine having to go tell a worker’s family that [he died] because he wasn’t wearing his safety harness,” said Rawls, who said wearing lifesaving safety equipment must be a condition of employment. “It not only affects his family, who may or may not have insurance, but it has a huge effect on the other people working at a construction site, too.”
Top management must be firm and uncompromising in enforcing workplace safety rules, he said.
“If you see a construction worker on a roof without protection, his butt is fired. It’s that simple,” Rawls said. “I’ve been driving by construction sites on Daniel Island since Day One and I just cringe when I see workers walking on roof trusses without harnesses.”
Many workers dislike wearing safety harnesses because they can restrict movement, he noted.
“Sure, they’re uncomfortable,” Rawls said. “You’ve got a harness running through your crotch and around your thighs that is attached to a D-ring tether. But it will save your life. If Mr. Romero had been wearing a safety harness that was properly anchored, he would have fallen only three or four feet and the other workers could have pulled him to safety. He might have bumped his head against a two-by-four or even broken his arm. But at least he’d be alive.”
Rawls also believes contractors and subcontractors that have had a workplace fatality should be told “that they don’t stand a chance to come onto a site on Daniel Island.”
He proposes independent workplace audits that would make sure that construction companies are adhering to safety rules.
“I’m serious about safety,” the 49-year-old Alcoa veteran said. “I’m uncompromising about it. I’ve investigated three fatal workplace accidents in over 20 years. I went to one where I had to go through nothing but blood and guts to try to figure out what had gone wrong. I never want to do that again.”
Accident victim Romero was a native of Honduras and Rawls said it’s important to be sensitive to cultural differences that may affect performance on a worksite.
He recently attended a safety seminar conducted by a Hispanic consultant who explained that Hispanic workers might have different motivations and attitudes that can affect willingness to abide by safety rules.
Before Alcoa began building a new smelting plant in Iceland, it hired a psychologist to study attitudes of Icelandic workers.
“They come from a hardy, seafaring culture and there is a fatalistic attitude that if your time is up, it’s up,” Rawls said. “You have to be aware of these differences in cultural expectations, but you must make one thing crystal clear: work safe or you’re not going to work.”
Another key concern is the safety of residents and others who explore construction sites on their own, according to The Daniel Island Company’s Dombrowski.
“Despite warning signs, we often see people on job sites who should not be there,” she said. “This is an opportunity to remind everyone that construction sites are restricted for a reason – they are not safe for people to be exploring on their own.”