Employers caught breaking the law, putting construction workers - WSMV Channel 4

Employers caught breaking the law, putting construction workers at risk

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Five deaths have been reported at Nashville construction sites so far this year. (WSMV) Five deaths have been reported at Nashville construction sites so far this year. (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

It’s hard to drive anywhere in Nashville without encountering a construction site, and that kind of work carries risk.

Five people have died in Nashville on job sites this year. The most recent death occurred two weeks ago.

One family is now coming forward saying the state needs to do more to protect workers on the job.

One man died last month at 311 Carter Street when the stairwell he was working on collapsed. Family members are questioning how safe these workers are on the job, including one man who said a lack of oversight led to the death of his brother.

In a 911 call obtained by the News 4 I-Team, a man says, “He was just on the roof and he just fell. I don’t know what happened because I was down, I wasn’t down in the area by the construction site.”

“Is he awake?” the dispatcher asked.

“No, he’s unconscious right now,” the man replied.

"I come back from work and sometimes he would get here before I would, so I walk into an empty house and walk into his room and I feel sadness,” Hermenegildo Dominguez said.

Life is no longer the same for Dominguez. His brother Alfonso died nearly three months ago after falling off the roof of a house under construction in south Nashville. He said the accident could have been prevented.

“They're working under unsafe conditions,” said Dominguez, who also works in construction.

He hopes this interview will make a difference for the thousands of other workers including himself. Through a translator he painted us a picture of what things were like at work for his brother.

"They don't provide the good harness or safety harnesses to be able to protect themselves in case they slip or fall. Just like what happened to my brother, so I really see it's a big problem. It's a big issue,” he said.

The I-Team looked through the state’s inspection report and discovered the sub-contractor Alfonso worked for was fined almost $10,000 for breaking several laws that day.

According to the report, two employees, including Alfonso, did not have fall protection. Inspectors also found the employer did not provide training for those two employees, both serious violations.

When a worker gets hurt on the job and has to go to the hospital, by law the employer must report it to TOSHA within 24 hours. When a worker dies, the employer has eight hours to report that death. Alfonso’s employer didn't report what happened for three days.

The I-Team has also learned there's no law requiring a certain number of hours for training.

Dominguez said the state needs tougher laws for construction sites.

“What do you say to people who don't think the state is doing enough to hold these companies accountable?” asked the I-Team’s Lindsay Bramson.

“I think we're doing all that we can with the man power we have, yes. Legally it's the employer’s responsibility to keep the workplace safe,” said Steve Hawkins, assistant commissioner for Tennessee OSHA.

The I-Team wanted to talk to Alfonso's employer about what happened. Both times we were told he wasn't home to speak with us.

The I-Team wanted to know just how bad the problem is. We started digging and, according to TOSHA, five people have died so far this year. Last year, seven people died in construction-related incidents.

The state has received 74 safety complaints from workers on the job this year. That’s compared to 99 last year.

Alfredo Pena works for the union LIUNA, which represents workers including Dominguez and his brother. He also worked construction for nearly a decade.

“Do you think enough is being done to keep these workers safe?” Bramson asked.

“No, not at all. We wouldn't be having this conversation,” Pena said.

The I-Team has been investigating these deaths for more than a month and since we started, another man died two weeks ago.

In a 911 call a man says, “Yes, I’m at 311 Carter Street. I’ve had a staircase fall and I’ve had a man just, looks like a bad concussion. There’s blood coming out of both ears."

“Are these workers safe out there on the job right now?” Bramson asked.

“Some are and some aren't. Certainly, there’s workers at risk every day. There's workers at risk while we're doing this interview. When you see that in many of these cases that we investigate that it could absolutely be avoided, it’s disheartening.  Because you want to see us do a better job with this,” Hawkins said.

Dominguez said tougher laws and more inspectors are just a few things he believes could make job sites safer.

“They really need to do something quick and soon because it’s really sad for somebody else to have to experience what we're experiencing, losing the life of someone,” Dominguez said.

The state currently has 59 inspectors on the ground throughout Tennessee who visit sites. Twenty-one of those are in the Nashville area.

If you drive by one of these sites and see what you think is a safety hazard, you can report it to TOSHA and even stay anonymous. Click here for more information.

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