Fatal Fall is a Hard Lesson at Brandeis University Worksite

The death of a worker who fell two stories to his death at a Waltham, Mass., construction site could have been prevented if his employer, William A. Berry & Son, had supplied required fall protection, according to citations issued by OSHA.

William A. Berry & Son, of Danvers, Mass., the general contractor on the construction of a new dormitory at Brandeis University, faces $46,200 in fines for alleged willful and serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, following the March 2 fatality.

Thirty-nine year-old Mark Chopelas was in an inside stairwell in the partially completed three-story dormitory at Brandeis University when he fell around 8 a.m. Chopelas was part of a crew of laborers who were dismantling a temporary work platform on the second floor level of an unfinished stairwell. Chopelas fell through the partially dismantled platform to the basement level.

OSHA's inspection found that William A. Berry 7 Son had not provided fall protection for the workers. This exposed these workers to falls of almost 26 feet from the work platform. The workers had also not been instructed to recognize and avoid such fall hazards.

"Falls are the number one killer in construction, having cost the lives of more than 400 American workers in 2001," explained Richard Fazzio, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex Counties. "This case shows in the starkest terms why fall protection is an absolute necessity when employees are working six feet or more above the next level."

Berry & Son faces a fine of $42,000 for failing to provide the fall protection, while a $4,200 fine is proposed for the lack of training. A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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