A subcontractor overseeing construction of the 35-story high-rise in downtown Brooklyn where a laborer fell to his death last November failed to provide scaffold fall protection in what the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration found to be a “willful” violation of federal workplace safety standards.
OSHA slapped Nunez Consulting Services Corp with fines totaling $128,132 after investigating the death of Raúl Tenelema Pulí at a Fulton St. job site last November, in what construction safety advocates described as an unusually high fine.
Inspectors in May substantiated three violations of federal workplace safety standards against the company, including the “willful” violation, the most serious category, and two additional “serious” violations for not properly securing ladders and scaffolds meant to protect workers and pedestrians at the non-union site.
Tenelema Pulí, 27, was employed by Colgate Scaffolding, based in The Bronx; Nunez Consulting was a subcontractor to Colgate on the 625 Fulton St. project. Neither company responded to requests for comment about OSHA’s findings.
According to a summary of the incident by OSHA, Tenelema Pulí was installing a scaffold at 8:30 in the morning of November 2 when he slipped and fell 20 feet and was crushed by what was described in city Department of Building records as a 30-foot-long I-beam.
He was rushed unconscious to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where he died of his injuries. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, according to an inspection report summary by OSHA.
Emily Ávila, a friend of Tenelema Pulí, described him in an online fundraiser as a “good guy, friendly, funny” who “always made us laugh.” The two first met as members of Folklor Azuayo, a New York-based Indigenous Ecuadorian folk dance group, she told THE CITY on Friday.
She declined to immediately speak about OSHA’s findings out of respect for his family.
Chaz Rynkiewicz, vice president of Laborer’s International Union Local 79, applauded the six-figure penalty by federal investigators but noted that the contractor could appeal the amount and also that it was still less than the maximum allowable fine of $156,259.
“Putting a price on workers – that’s never enough,” he said. “We do applaud OSHA for doing what they can within their power to give a higher than normal penalty in this case, and we hope that that penalty holds up to the fullest extent of the penalty.”
The Colgate Scaffolding crew was erecting the sidewalk shed on the perimeter of the foundation for 625 Fulton St., a planned 35-story residential and retail tower. The project’s developer is the Rabsky Group in Brooklyn, which has built other housing and is behind the redevelopment of Bushwick’s Rheingold Brewery.
Immediately after Tenelema Pulí’s death, the city Department of Buildings visited the site and found that “there were no working platforms” to protect workers erecting scaffolding.
The city then slapped both Colgate and Galaxy Developers, the general contractor, with $25,000 fines for Class-1 violations, the most serious kind, for “Immediately Hazardous violations [that] must be corrected immediately.”
Tenelema Pulí’s fatal fall was not the first or last worker injury to bring inspectors’ attention to the Fulton Street development.
Investigators had been summoned to the site after a worker was hit in the head by steel rebar in August 2021, resulting in a violation against Galaxy for “failure to institute safety equipment measures at time of inspection.” Records show the firm remedied the issue and the violation was dismissed.
Galaxy, which received three additional Class-1 fines on the day Tenelema Pulí died, has racked up seven more since then, all at the 625 Fulton Street site where a slab crushed a worker’s hand in February and two workers fell through a 4×2 hole on the site’s 15th floor and landed on a pile of debris in April.
“Galaxy cooperated fully with all investigations into the tragedy that befell Mr. Tenelema Puli who worked for a subcontractor which was fined in connection with his death,” a spokesperson for Galaxy Developers said in a statement on Friday, noting that the company “was not found to have any responsibility” in the OSHA case.
“The company remains deeply saddened by the tragic accident that took his life. The company remains committed to maintaining safe work sites and will continue to cooperate with city agencies.”
Non-union and Latino construction workers are most at-risk of death on the job in New York City every year, an industry that is statistically New York’s most deadly.
An estimated 10% of New York state’s workers are Latino, but Latino workers accounted for more than a quarter of workplace fatalities statewide, according to an analysis of federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a worker safety watchdog group. At the 15 sites OSHA inspected after a fatality in 2021, 80% of the workers were non-union.