Investigation of fatal accident continues

More than two months after a steel beam collapsed at a Yale construction site in Science Park, leaving one dead and three injured, federal officials are still investigating whether safety violations occurred.

The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set no completion date for its inspection, which has up to six months to finish by law, OSHA spokesman Edmund Fitzgerald said earlier this month. OSHA is inspecting Fast Trek Steel, a Coxsackie, N.Y.-based firm that helped with the ironwork at the site of the accident. University spokesman Tom Conroy said he did not have any information about whether Yale is investigating the incident in an e-mail Monday.

The steel beam fell on Sept. 13 at the future site of a Yale chiller plant that will provide 20,000 tons of cool air to nearby University facilities when completed, and University and federal officials were at the scene to assess the stability of the structure the next day. The accident led to the death of construction worker Robert Adrian and was the second in five weeks to occur at 275 Winchester Ave., where a worker was injured in August by a cherry picker that tipped over.

University spokesman Tom Conroy said in an e-mail that Yale halted construction on the project for two weeks after the beam collapsed, but Andy Esposito, president of the worker union Local 424 United Ironworkers, which had nine members at the site when the accident occurred, said construction only ceased for three or four days.

Esposito said OSHA interviewed everyone in his office, finishing about two weeks ago. Yale has not done any investigative work to his knowledge, Esposito said, but helped pay expenses for Adrian’s funeral.

Fitzgerald said the time OSHA spends on inspections varies from case to case, but cases involving accidents and fatalities typically take longer than routine site inspections. If violations are found, Fitzgerald added, OSHA could issue citations or fines to the employer. OSHA does not discuss specifics of ongoing investigations, he said.

Two of the three injured workers, Robert Enfield and Robert Elliot, still remain in the care of doctors, Esposito said on Sunday. The third, Sheneane Ragin, is “still in some kind of shock,” Esposito said, adding that none of the three has returned to work.

Elliot, a Hamden, Conn. native, said he has not returned home for more than a few hours since the construction accident twisted his leg around from the knee down. Elliot is currently in the Montowese Health & Rehab Center in North Haven.

“One day you work in the morning, and you head to work, and you don’t come home for two-and-a-half to three months,” he said. “It’s hard on my family; it’s hard on my kids.”

Elliot said he just regained the ability to bend his knee a week ago, and still can put no weight on his foot. Esposito checks in with him occasionally, Elliot said, but he has not heard from the other individuals injured in the construction accident, whom he barely knew.

Neither Elliot nor his family has been contacted by Yale or OSHA to his knowledge, he said. He declined to answer whether he plans to take legal action against Fast Trek Steel or any of the parties involved.

Enfield, a New York worker injured in the accident, went through three different surgeries at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, Esposito said, and is still recuperating from injuries that included a concussion, eye damage, and a broken pelvis. Enfield is currently in a rehabilitation center in his home state, Esposito said, and is expected to be discharged this week.

All of the workers from Local 424 and Hartford, Conn.-based Local 15 who were on the site of the accident have since moved to other locations, Esposito said, though other workers from those unions have taken their place.

Hartford-based Action Steel replaced Fast Trek Steel in the wake of the accident, Esposito said, adding that he did not know why the switch occurred.

George Colvin, president of Fast Trek Steel, declined to comment because the OSHA investigation is ongoing, but confirmed that Action Steel took over for his company.

Meanwhile, Shawmut Design and Construction, the Boston-based company that is leading construction on the site and originally contracted Fast Trek Steel, added another superintendent to oversee the job for increased safety after the accident. They are waiting for the results of the investigation, Shawmut spokeswoman Kelli McLeod said in mid-November.

McLeod said safety remains Shawmut’s top concern, along with protecting Yale as the client. She declined to speak about the incident in more detail because she said Shawmut does not want to compromise the situation while it is under investigation.

“In regards to this project, I don’t think anyone can speak to it or provide any lessons learned until we know what the outcome is,” McLeod said. “Everybody’s probably just lying low until OSHA and Yale have their results.”

Construction on the chiller plant is part of the University’s effort to develop the Science Park area through construction of manufacturing and office space.

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