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‘Questions’ Revive Probe of Worker’s Death

Monday, October 28, 2013

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Why did experienced elevator mechanic Donald White not move out of the way when he knew that an elevator was coming at him?

That is just one of the questions gnawing at California labor officials, who have taken the rare step of reopening an investigation into White's death in June at the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium.

The California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) said Wednesday (Oct. 23) that it had rescinded its "no violation" decision regarding White's employer, Schindler Elevator Corp., and was reopening the case.

White was the first of two workers killed on the project this year.

Elevator Fatality

White, 63, a certified elevator mechanic, was fatally struck by an elevator counterweight June 11 while working on a ladder in an elevator shaft at the stadium in Santa Clara.

Schindler Elevator, based in Morristown, NJ, is the North American arm of Switzerland-based Schindler Group, a leading global manufacturer of elevators, escalators and moving walks.

Donald White Edward Lake
Family photos

Cal/OSHA has reopened its investigation into the death of electrician Donald White (on the right, in photo at left), who was killed on the stadium project June 11. Edward Lake II (right photo) was killed on the same project Oct. 14.

Cal/OSHA issued Schindler a notice of no violation on Oct. 14 and rescinded the notice Oct. 22, agency spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said in an email. Oct. 14 was the same day that another worker, Edward Erving Lake II, was killed on the stadium project.

Lake, 60, of Vacaville, CA, was crushed by a load of rebar that was being unloaded from his truck at the site. Lake was employed by Gerdau Ameristeel, a Tampa, FL-based steel producer.

The 49ers' $1.2 billion stadium is due to open in 2014.

Company Responds

Schindler provided this statement in an email.

"Schindler regrets anytime there is an injury or fatality with any of our employees. Our thoughts remain with Mr. White’s family.  

"We are aware, and were surprised to learn that Cal-OSHA has rescinded a notice of no violation.  We believe there was no safety violation on the job site and that Cal-OHSA's notice of no violation remains an appropriate conclusion.

"Nevertheless, we will continue to cooperate with the investigation.  As a leading manufacturer of elevators and escalators since 1874, Schindler is committed to the safety of its equipment, its workers and the riding public."

Questions Raised

Cal/OSHA, which is investigating both deaths, did not explain why it was reopening the White case.

The decision followed an internal review of the case in which "one of the experienced Cal/OSHA people raised questions," Monterroza told the San Jose Mercury News.

Monterroza did not elaborate on the questions but added: "This does not happen on a regular basis."

Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Kathleen Hennessy told the Bay City News that White “was in communication with the person operating the elevator and was aware the elevator was in operation, but did not move."

“It’s still somewhat of a mystery” why that occurred, Hennessy said.

Cal/OSHA has six months, until Dec. 11, to complete its investigation.

49ers Stadium rendering
HNTB Architecture

A rendering shows the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2014.

Monterroza told the Mercury News that investigators were "carefully going over all of the evidence to make sure the investigation is complete."

OSHA Accident Record

Federal OSHA records show that Schindler Elevator was cited on nine different occasions in 2012 at various sites around the United States.

The 2012 records include:

All of those cases remain open, according to OSHA records.

In addition, OSHA cited and fined the company after an employee fell and broke his pelvis in an elevator shaft in Palo Alto, CA, in April 2011.

The records also show a fatal accident in December 2010. In that case, the Schindler employee had been working alone and was found unresponsive in an elevator pit, caught between an elevator car and a ladder. OSHA said the elevators "had not been properly deenergized or locked out."

Schindler was initially cited for 23 violations and fined $69,300. The case remains open.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Enforcement; Fatalities; Health and safety; OSHA; Stadiums/Sports Facilities; Subcontractors

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