- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The state Labor Department has fined three companies in connection with the deaths of three workers killed when scaffolding fell at a high-rise construction project in downtown Raleigh, including one that was cited for violations described as willful and serious.

The highest fines and most serious citations went to Associated Scaffolding Co. in Durham, which faces fines of $151,900 for four violations of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Act, including three described as willful and serious. Two other companies face fines of $4,200 each for violations described as serious.

Three men died and a fourth was injured on March 23 when the scaffolding fell to the ground during the construction of Charter Square, a glass-and-steel building that opened in June. Killed were Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, of Durham; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton; and Anderson Almeida, 33, of Durham. Elmer Guevara, 53, was treated for serious injuries.

Investigators said Associated Scaffolding should pay a fine of $49,000 for each of the following violations: not having a competent person available to work on safety procedures to keep workers from falling; not having guys, ties and/or braces installed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations; and loading scaffolding with more weight than it is designed to hold. The company also was fined $4,900 for not inspecting scaffolding.

The Labor Department cited Jannawall for one serious violation with a total penalty of $4,200; it levied the same fine to Juba Aluminum Products. Both companies were cited for not having a qualified person train employees.

The maximum penalty for each willful violation is $70,000 and for each serious violation is $7,000.

The state AFL-CIO had hoped the Labor Department would levy the steepest possible fines, said MaryBe McMillan, the organization’s secretary-treasurer. “We hope the fines are not reduced further during the appeals process,” she said. “Companies whose negligence costs workers their lives should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

The equipment that collapsed, known as a mast climber scaffold, moves up and down a building’s facade to take workers to different floors. The building’s contractor said workers were dismantling the scaffolding when the accident occurred.

The Associated Press left messages for Associated Scaffolding and Juba Aluminum. A telephone number listed for Jannawall had a bad connection and then rang busy. The companies have 15 working days from receipt of the citations to request an informal conference with the Labor Department, to contest the fines or to pay the fines.

No OSHA citations were issued to KEA Contracting Inc. and Choate Construction Co., which also were investigated after the accident.

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Martha Waggoner can be reached at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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