Jul 29, 2014
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Fremont Company Responsible In Jan. Construction Death

Builders ignored safety warnings, stop orders before wall collapsed.

Fremont Company Responsible In Jan. Construction Death

A Fremont-based construction and investment company is being held responsible in the death of a 37-year-old carpenter at a Milpitas construction site last January.

In a statement today, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that after a civil investigation, it has issued US-Sino Investments, Inc. 14 citations, totaling $168,175, and is continuing with a criminal investigation.

Cal/OSHA officials say the citations stemmed from the Jan. 28 death of Raul Zapata, who was buried alive when an excavation wall collapsed on top of him. The city of Milpitas had issued a "stop work" order three days earlier due to unstable ground, Cal/OSHA said.

"Cal/OSHA's investigation into Zapata's death revealed US-Sino's disregard for the safety of its workers," said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess.

Cal/OSHA said their investigation revealed "numerous serious and willful violations of Cal/OSHA's safety standards."

Following their investigation, Cal/OSHA also referred US-Sino to the Contractors State Licensing Board and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, which suspended both company and owner Richard Liu's general building licenses, upon finding that the employer had not met its legal obligation to provide workers' compensation insurance.

"We think this case is particularly appropriate for criminal referral based on the egregious facts leading to the worker's death," Widess said.

According to Cal/OSHA, the wall that collapsed on Zapata had no soil support system installed, something required by its trenching and excavation regulations.

Among other violations, US-Sino had not acquired the proper project permit, which California law requires for work involving an excavation wall more than 5 feet deep or a trench into which workers are lowered.

Cal/OSHA also said that workers at the site had no injury or illness prevention plan, heat illness prevention plan, or communication plan in place in case of such an emergency.

According to Erica Monterroza, a spokeswoman for Cal/OSHA, once the department has completed its criminal investigation, it will hand the case over to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office for further action.

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