State investigators are looking into three companies involved in a construction project in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood where a worker fell to his death over the weekend.
The probe will focus primarily on what led to the fatal fall and whether any state safety or other standards were violated, Neal O’Briant, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Labor, said this week.
James Dale Leece, 54, of Tampa, Fla., was on a ladder Sunday on a fifth-floor balcony on an office building under construction on Camden Road and West Kingston Avenue when he fell, according to a preliminary report from the state Labor Department. His body was found in front of the building. Clothes and a piece of rope lay nearby.
The state’s investigation includes Florida-based Leau Enterprises Inc., which employed Leece, as well as two local companies, Waynco Roofing of Matthews and Edifice Inc. of Charlotte.
“On construction sites, it is normal ... to open inspections not only with the employer of the victim but also the general contractor and any subcontractors whose employees may have been exposed to the hazard,” O’Briant said in an email to the Observer.
The state probe comes as a construction industry group was in Charlotte to unveil recommendations on ways to improve worker safety. Construction-related fatalities were up 66 percent statewide in 2014 and 18 percent nationally, according to the Associated General Contractors of Americas.
This summer, a man who worked for a siding contractor fell 14 feet to his death while working on a house in Ballantyne.
The general contractors association has outlined 13 ways its 26,000 members – about 900 in the Carolinas – can help workers better prepare for the duties they face on the job, spokesman Brian Turmail said. Among the ideas: having new hires and temporary workers complete a safety orientation program, pairing new workers with a more experienced “buddy” and creating task-specific “pocket safety guides” for every job assigned to a worker.
“As new, relatively inexperienced workers come on board, it is becoming increasingly clear that we do need to do more as an industry to make sure these workers do not harm themselves or their co-workers,” Turmail said.
Turmail spoke Thursday at the uptown safety training facility for Charlotte’s WB Moore Company, which the association touted as a model for other companies.
Billy Graves bought the electrical contracting company in 1993 and has had no fatalities. The company employs about 300 people today. WB Moore also has had no safety violations or citations from the N.C. Department of Labor, Graves said Thursday.
The company has received multiple awards for its safety programs, including two in 2015 from the association. One of those is the Grand Award, recognizing the company as the best overall contractor in the nation for safety.
Turmail said it is a coincidence that the association’s recommendations came days after the fatal incident in South End.
Records show mixed history for the companies at the South End project.
Leau Enterprises Inc. has had no OSHA violations.
Waynco Roofing LLC has logged five OSHA violations since 2006, according to federal records. The company was fined twice in 2013 – once for a serious health violation and later for repeated safety violations. Combined, the fines totaled $7,700, though investigators settled for $5,100.
Edifice Inc. has been fined twice since 2011, records show. The company’s most recent violation came in March, when investigators fined Edifice $600 for health concerns.
Details about the violations were not immediately available.
In deaths involving falls from ladders, investigators consider such factors as whether the ladders were in good condition, whether the ladders were inspected frequently and whether employees were trained in hazards associated with ladder use. The state also checks whether a safety program, including ladder safety, was developed.
Typically, fatality inspections take three to four months, O’Briant said. By state law, the division has up to six months from the date of an incident to issue citations for any violations.
Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms