California Workers Death Prompts Criminal Charges

Late in 2012, a 51 year old San Francisco worker fell to his death at a worksite. Fines in the amount of more than $25,800 have been assessed against Versaggi Construction for serious violations. But the bad news for the construction company doesn’t stop there. As Cal/OSHA’s lengthy criminal investigation progressed, the regulatory agency coordinated with the District Attorney’s office to file felony charges. The two people being held responsible for the death of the construction worker are the foreman at the site (John Fitt) and the owner of the construction company (Salvador William Versaggi). Both men pled not guilty to manslaughter charges and labor code violations last month.

What Happened at the Site?

Jose Plancarte was given the job of working on a window frame opening about 18 feet above ground level. His employer did not provide fall protection, although the working height was more than twice the height at which fall protection measures should have been put in place according to OSHA regulations. Mr. Plancarte created his own makeshift scaffold (with no guardrails) out of some planks, brackets, and nails to access the work area. Predictably, one misstep led to a fatal fall to the concrete floor below.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation determined that the employer failed to provide adequate protection and that the foreman knew of the unsafe scaffold built by the worker. OSHA and the DA’s office are attempting to hold both men accountable for failing to prevent the foreseeable death of an employee.

Current Case Echoes Similar Fatality in 2008

The fatal fall of Plancarte occurred just a few years after another worker, Antonio Martinez, fell 40 feet from an apartment roof to a concrete sidewalk. The employer in this case also failed to institute proper safety measures. The worker was not wearing fall protection and the employer did not provide railings or barriers to protect the employee from venturing too near the edge of the roof.

Shockingly, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) discovered two more employees working in the same location without fall protection the day after their coworker fell to his death. Apparently, the foreman on site told investigators that he believed fall protection was not necessary when working on a flat roof. The owner of California C&R later pled guilty to four felonies including involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

These tragic deaths offer insight into the importance of fall protection for all at-risk workers. These cases also demonstrate that OSHA is serious about jail time for employers who fail to take proactive steps to safeguard their employees.