It probably seemed like the job of a lifetime; something to tell his kids and grandkids. Jeramie M. Gruber, 35, of Northfield, Minn., was a roofer, part of a construction team of as many as 1,200 workers helping to build the new home of the Minnesota Vikings.
At approximately 7:45 a.m. on Aug. 26, Gruber and another worker from Berwald Roofing were performing what John Wood, senior vice president of general contractor Mortenson Construction, called a “fairly conventional” installation when they fell. Gruber fell some 50 feet and landed in a rain gutter. It’s unclear if the other worker fell to the same spot. The other worker remains in the hospital in stable condition.
In a statement, the Vikings organization said, “Today is an extremely sad day for the Minnesota Vikings organization and the entire stadium team. Our sincere thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the individual who passed away, the worker who remains hospitalized, and the more than 1,000 dedicated construction workers who are on the site every day and are also affected by this accident.”
Construction on the stadium began in December 2013 and is scheduled for completion by the 2016 football season.
Wood, calling it a “very tragic day,” told the Star Tribune, “When something like this happens, it hits people very hard.”
Mortenson is recognized for its safety culture, requiring workers on the site to cross at designated crosswalks and not cross against the traffic lights. Minnesota OSHA spokesperson James Honerman said the agency has conducted 16 inspections at Mortenson work sites – which have included Target Field in Minneapolis and TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota – in the past five years but issued no citations or penalties.
During the past 18 months, Mortenson Construction has been working with Minnesota OSHA’s Workplace Safety Consultation to achieve a safety and health recognition goal called MNSHARP. Mortenson achieved this MNSHARP status on Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium.
As part of the OSHA Consultation program, Minnesota OSHA consultants periodically visit the stadium to conduct a walk-around site visit with representatives of safety professionals from the various on-site contractors. After the inspection, the group gathers to discuss any safety or health items that need attention, clarification or follow-up. Under the federal guidelines for the OSHA Consultation program, the details of the consultation visits only can be provided by Mortenson.
However, Berwald, Gruber’s employer, has received nine worksite citations for serious violations during six inspections. Many of the citations were for a lack of fall protection or safety harnesses. The inspections, citations issued and fines include:
Aug. 7, 2014 – programmed/planned (routine) – Two citations, both serious
1. Direct access to scaffold platform was more than 14” away horizontally. ($1,050)
2. Each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lower level was not protected from falling to that lower level by either: a personal fall-arrest system meeting the requirements; or a guardrail system installed along all open sides and ends of platforms, meeting the requirements. ($1,050)
Oct. 2, 2013 – programmed/planned (routine) – One citation, serious
1. Each employee engaged in roofing activities on low-slope roofs, with unprotected sides and edges six-feet or more above lower levels was not protected with fall protection. ($1,650)
Sept. 4, 2013 – programmed/planned (routine) – Three citations, all serious
1. A fire extinguisher, rated not less than 2A, was not provided for each 3,000 square feet of the protected building area, or major faction thereof. ($800)
2. Each employee in a hoist area was not protected from falling six feet or more to lower levels by guardrail systems or personal fall-arrest systems. ($2,200)
3. Parts of the equipment, load line or load (including rigging and lifting accessories) were allowed below a power line where the employer had not confirmed that the utility owner/operator had de-energized and (at the worksite) visibly grounded the power line. ($2,200)
Sept. 25, 2012 – programmed/planned (routine) – One citation, serious
1. Each employee engaged in roofing activities on low-slope roofs with unprotected sides and edges six feet or more above lower levels was not protected with fall prevention. ($900)
July 20, 2012 – programmed/planned (routine) – One citation, serious
1. Each employee on a steep roof with unprotected sides and edges six feet of more above lower levels was not protected from falling by guardrail systems with toeboards, safety net systems or personal fall-arrest systems. ($1,650)
Dec. 14, 2010 – programmed/planned (routine) – One citation, serious
1. Each employee on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge that was six feet or more above a lower level was not protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall-arrest systems. ($1,050)
From 2010 through 2014, Minnesota OSHA Compliance investigated 27 fatalities due to falls (federal-fiscal years). In federal-fiscal-year 2014, “fall protection” in Minnesota was the most frequently cited standard in the construction industry by Minnesota OSHA, with 564 citations, according to Honerman.