OSHA calls for increased safety training

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has formally recommended that the Yale School of Drama provide training to students handling heavy props and materials following the death of a graduate student at the Yale Repertory Theatre last month.

The recommendation to offer more training was contained in OSHA’s report about the accident, which has not been released publicly and was obtained by the News under the Freedom of Information Act. Pierre-Andre Salim DRA ’09 was killed Nov. 18 after several dozen sheets of particleboard fell on him as he helped to unload materials from the back of a truck for the Rep’s production of “Tartuffe,” which is now showing.

OSHA officials told the News last month that their preliminary investigation indicated several safety lapses may have contributed to the accident.

After being asked about the OSHA report, University Spokesman Tom Conroy disclosed Tuesday that Yale will conduct its own review of Salim’s death. That review will include consideration of OSHA’s recommendations, Conroy said.

Drama School Dean James Bundy was traveling this week and could not be reached for comment. But a week after the accident, he issued a statement apologizing “for any factors that could have contributed to this tragedy,” hinting that Yale may be at least partially responsible for the circumstances surrounding Salim’s death.

OSHA has no enforcement jurisdiction in the case because Salim was working as a student, not as an employee, when the incident occurred. But the agency proceeded with its investigation in order to pinpoint any safety issues that may have contributed to the accident so they can be avoided in the future.

“If these students are going to be off-loading props and things of that nature, they need to be aware of potential hazards,” said Robert Kowalski, area director for OSHA, in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It’s our responsibility to say, ‘Hey, this is what you need to look at in the future to preclude this from happening again.’”

The accident occurred when Salim was helping to remove 32 sheets of 4-foot by 8-foot particleboard that were stacked upright against one wall of the truck, which was tilting about 4.5 degrees toward the sidewalk alongside York Street, according to the report.

Another student removed one of two straps affixing the wood to the side of the truck, and Salim suggested kicking out the bottom of the boards so they would lean against the wall and not fall over when he removed the second strap, according to the report. Salim and another student then loosened the second strap and began to move the wood so it would lean against the wall of the truck on its own, witnesses said.

In doing so, the wood began to tip. Two other students — who were standing on either side of the stack of wood — attempted to stay the fall, but the approximately 1,190-pound stack overwhelmed them and toppled over. Salim was pinned under its weight against a prop leaning against the other wall of the truck.

The two students called for help, and a third graduate student who was supervising the load-in came to the truck. Together, the three students pulled the wood off of Salim, only to find him unconscious. His hard hat had been knocked off from the force of the impact, witnesses said.

The accident occurred at 8:51 a.m., and an ambulance was quickly called to the scene, City Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga told the News last month. Salim arrived at Yale-New Haven Hospital at 9:05 a.m., the OSHA report said, and was pronounced dead at 9:26 a.m. A medical examiner ruled that he died of severe head injuries and that his death was accidental.

The OSHA report said the truck could have been loaded in a different manner to reduce the risk of the wood’s tipping over. It also recommended that the University provide “specific training to students on the safe removal of props for performances.” The truck was loaded by a private shipping company.

“It should be stressed that any heavy loads or awkward loads be brought to the attention of someone who has the authority, knowledge and experience to safely deal with all the unique load variations and hazards that could occur and be present in a loaded trailer,” the report said.

It is still unclear whether Salim had any training in unloading heavy materials, or whether he had signed a waiver beforehand.

Whenever a non-employee is involved in an accident on campus, the University could be vulnerable to a lawsuit, depending on the situation, said Marjorie Lemmon, the manager of Yale’s Office of Risk Management, which is responsible for handling liability claims against the University.

“If the facts of the situation dictate that Yale had some … negligence involved, or something that should have been done wasn’t done, or something that should not have been done was done, our general liability insurance would respond to that,” Lemmon said.

But legal experts cautioned that an OSHA report is rarely enough sufficient evidence to justify a wrongful death lawsuit claiming, for instance, negligence on the part of the University.

Salim, 26, of Jakarta, Indonesia, was set to receive his master’s degree in technical design and production in 2009. He graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2002 with a degree in computer science and moved to New Haven last year to attend the School of Drama.

Last month, the University announced a scholarship created in his name. The Pierre-Andre Salim Memorial Scholarship will cover full tuition and living expenses for one entering drama student each year.

The opening of “Tartuffe” was also delayed a week as a result of the accident.

Comments

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