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Contractor cited in fatal fall at work site in Falls Fines of $40,000 could be imposed

The general contractor of a Holiday Inn being built on Niagara Falls Boulevard could face $40,000 in fines after a fatal fall last month that killed the site boss, federal officials said Tuesday.

Michael Thomas, president of DEC Management of Athens, Ga., has been cited for six violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"This case is the starkest example of what happens when basic and vital safeguards are ignored," said Arthur Dube, Buffalo-area director of OSHA. "This tragedy could have been prevented."

This is the second time in three months that the mostly non-union construction site has been cited for safety violations. Several citations in August were under investigation when the worker, August Corviso, fell to his death, Dube said.

DEC Management has two weeks to meet with OSHA officials or contest the citations before the independent OSHA Review Commission.

Thomas did not return telephone calls Tuesday, nor did Mohan and Mandi Saran of Grand Island, owners of the 2.6-acre property at Niagara Falls Boulevard and 101st Street.

Corviso, 53, of the Raleigh suburb of Garner, N.C., died Oct. 3, and Thomas Szczerbacki, 54, of Niagara Falls, suffered fractured legs after they fell 25 feet from the third-floor roof of the hotel.

The two men were among a dozen workers building a $6 million Holiday Inn near Niagara Falls International Airport. The four-story, 88-room hotel is scheduled to be completed in February.

Several workers were standing on a precast concrete panel they were moving into place when it crashed to the ground, taking the two men with it and slamming them onto a concrete floor. A third worker jumped to safety when the slab fell.

OSHA inspectors determined that the panel lacked the "strength and structural integrity" to safely support the workers. Also, a portable ladder the workers used to get to higher floors was not long enough.

The inspectors also found that workers at the site had not been given necessary training in fall hazards and lacked "required fall protection." They said the contractor did not have a safety program in place.

Dennis F. Virtuoso, the city's senior code-enforcement officer, as well as the minority leader of the Niagara County Legislature, shut down the work site immediately after the incident. Construction resumed two weeks later when the city's Building Inspections Department declared the site safe.

DEC Management is being picketed by members of Laborers Local 91 for hiring non-union workers from out of town.

The union also criticized the lack of safety precautions, including the lack of scaffolding and no handrail around the top floor, said Rob Connolly, Local 91's business manager. The construction site, he said, was "an accident waiting to happen."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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