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OSHA Deems Fatal Beam Collapse Accident Was Preventable

Even though the temperature was hovering around freezing with a slight breeze blowing from the southeast on the morning of April 5, 2016, it was not the weather that claimed the life of Mr. Vincente Santoyo along Interstate 90 in Des Plaines. Instead, the Elgin Omega Demolition Corporation worker was tragically killed by a falling 45-ton beam at a freeway construction worksite. The incident also caused serious injuries to three other employees.

A report by the Chicago Tribune notes that construction site crew members were removing the beam by using heavy equipment on Touhy Avenue under the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (Interstate 90) when the accident occurred. The critically injured 47-year-old victim was rushed to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The Chicago-area native had worked in the construction industry for more than two decades.

The incident occurred on the old westbound lanes portion of the interstate that is part of the massive reconstruction I-90 project. The construction job involving the widening of the existing roadway between Chicago and Elgin to eight lanes has caused massive traffic problems at the busiest times of the day. To complete the project, these lanes were temporarily closed down and traffic redirected on the eastbound portion of the road that had already been rebuilt and completed. It remains unclear if the incident that took the life of Mr. Santoyo will delay construction and the final completion of the freeway widening project.

Two of the four beams that held up the old westbound lanes along that portion of Touhy Avenue had already been removed. Investigators are considering whether the removal of the third beam caused the fourth beam to become unsteady.

OSHA Says Accident Was Preventable

Official reports indicate that the workers at the interstate construction site were removing the heavy 180-foot long beam at approximately 3:00 AM when the beam collapsed. Initially, the cause of the fatal accident was not readily known. However, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) compliant officials conducting an investigation of the accident believe it was a support strap or chain that failed. On-scene investigators are determining if adequate support straps or chains were used when the beam was being removed. During the preliminary OSHA investigation, all work at the job site was suspended.

OSHA released a report indicating that the incident occurring at the job site was “preventable.” A spokesman for OSHA, Scott Allen said that “every incident such as this is preventable if all OSHA standards and regulations are followed.” As a part of the initial investigation, OSHA had revealed that the construction site’s general contractor that employed the deceased worker had previously received nine citations from the safety administration since 2006, involving more than $6400 in penalties for various violations.

Holding Contractors Liable

The OSHA investigation into the incident is expected to include a thorough inspection of the actions and inaction of the demolition company (Omega Demolition Corporation) and general contractor (Judlau Contracting, Inc.). OSHA expects the investigation to determine whether the contractors were in compliance with OSHA regulations and standards.

Since its inception, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has dedicated huge resources in an effort to raise awareness of the importance for construction contractors and demolition companies to follow OSHA regulations and standards. It is the objective of the administration to prevent accidents including the one that killed the roadway construction worker in April 2016. Numerous agency executives believe that it is imperative that contractors place more emphasis on staying in compliance with regulations, rules and standards in an effort to save lives and injuries on the job.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels has stated that “Making a living shouldn’t have to cost you your life. Workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses are preventable. Save jobs happen because employers make the choice to fulfill the responsibilities and protect their workers.”

Safety Regulations Have Helped

Working on a construction site is an inherently hazardous job. However, when proper precautions are taken, death and injury can be avoided. Before the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the early 1970s, approximately 14,000 workers were killed on the job at an average rate of 38 construction accidents every day. Since then, that number has been reduced by more than two-thirds. However, much more needs to be done to decrease the number even further.

OSHA has taken many steps to prevent dangerous occurrences of on job site injuries and fatalities by mandating standards, rules and regulations to avoid:

  • Inadequate safety precautions

  • A failure to implement safety warnings

  • A lack of inspection procedures

  • Contractors and demolition companies using inadequately trained construction workers

Determining which parties are at fault for an accident occurring on a construction or industrial site is one of the most difficult challenges in filing a compensatory claim. Holding those responsible for injuries and fatalities legally and financially accountable usually requires a comprehensive understanding of Illinois tort law and the ability to navigate the victim or surviving family members through the intricacies of a complex construction accident case.

Copyright © 2022, Rosenfeld Injury LawyersNational Law Review, Volume VI, Number 247

About this Author

Jonathan Rosenfeld, Personal Injury Lawyer, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers

I’m an Illinois lawyer with a nationwide practice who represents members of our society who have been seriously injured or killed due to the irresponsible acts of an individual or company. The injured have the same rights as everyone else — to be treated with compassion and respect— but their vulnerability means they need special protection and representation against those who injure, neglect or abuse them. This is my life’s work.

I recognize that an injured person has one opportunity to get the compensation that the law allows. I am fully dedicated and mindful of this...