An ironworker whose death last month at Baylor University’s stadium construction site is being investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration worked for a company that was fined for “serious” OSHA safety violations in the construction of Cowboys Stadium.
OSHA fined Derr Steel Erection $7,000 after a June 2008 incident in which damaged rigging from a crane fell where workers were standing.
According to news stories, three workers standing on another crane were injured in jumping out of the way, and one was critically injured.
The Euless-based company, now called Derr and Isbell Construction, also was assessed a $2,000 penalty in 2009 after OSHA inspectors said an unguarded grinder exposed workers on the Cowboys Stadium scoreboard to cut and amputation hazards.
OSHA now is investigating what caused the death of 55-year-old Jose Dario Suarez, of Manor, who was working Jan. 28 on the pedestrian bridge over the Brazos River as part of Baylor’s McLane Stadium.
Police said Suarez was working on the bridge when the aerial boom lift on which he was standing slid off a barge and into the river.
His body, still harnessed to the lift, was recovered by divers in 16 feet of water.
Derr and Isbell, a 52-year-old company that has erected steel for DFW Airport, Minute Maid Park and many other massive projects, did not return calls for this story.
Baylor officials deferred comment to Austin-Flintco, the general contractor for the $260 million stadium.
An Austin-Flintco spokesman declined to comment on Derr and Isbell or the incident but said his company “maintains one of the highest safety records in the industry.”
Regional OSHA officials said they could not comment on whether Derr and Isbell’s safety record is out of the ordinary for a company of its size.
The Cowboys Stadium violations were considered “serious,” but not “willful,” a category that has a fine limit of $70,000.
Under OSHA rules, any incident that causes death or at least three injuries must be reported to OSHA. The agency had not inspected the McLane Stadium site before the death.
An official with the Arlington-based Iron Workers Local 263, which represents union workers for Derr and Isbell, defended the company’s safety record.
Ron Smitherman, business manager for the union, said he has heard no safety complaints about the company, and he has even worked jobs for the company more than 20 years ago.
“I know Derr and Isbell has a safety program and is very safety-minded,” he said. “If (workers) aren’t following safety rules, they’re not shy about getting rid of them.”
Smitherman said even one serious accident is too many, but he noted that Derr and Isbell has safely completed huge projects such as the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium and the Washington, D.C., convention center.
He said the steel erection industry in general has become much safer in recent decades.
“I’ve been an ironworker for 39 years,” he said. “It used to be when you got up on the iron, you walked it and didn’t tie off. You didn’t have three-quarters of the safety measures you have now. . . . Forty or 50 years ago, insurance people would come out and say, ‘You may lose two people on a job.’ We seldom hear that anymore. . . . Now, getting anybody hurt is unacceptable.”