Scaffold Construction Plunge Death Spurs Demands for Stepped-Up Site Safety
Raúl Tenelema Puli of Queens fell 20 feet along with a heavy I-beam at a downtown Brooklyn residential tower project.
A construction worker building a protective sidewalk shed fell to his death on Wednesday at a downtown Brooklyn construction site. Police officials have identified 27-year-old Raúl Tenelema Puli, of Corona, Queens, as the victim.
Tenelema Puli was installing a 30-foot-long I-beam when he slipped and fell 20 feet, the beam landing on top of him, according to a summary of the incident issued by the city Department of Buildings. He was rushed unconscious to NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where he died of his injuries.
A city Department of Buildings spokesperson said Tenelema Puli was employed by subcontractor Colgate Scaffolding, based in The Bronx. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Tenelema Puli was a “quiet, hardworking, good guy” who “stayed out of trouble,” said a roommate who answered the door at his 100th Street address and refused to provide his name.
The roommate said he heard his footsteps and the rustle of his toolbox as Tenelema Puli, who lived on the first floor of the multi-family building, left and returned from work every day.
He knew something was wrong on Wednesday when it was a distraught relative, and not Tenelema Puli, who walked through the door at the end of the day.
“The whole situation is very unfortunate,” he said in Spanish.
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.
“We are deeply saddened at the tragic accident that happened at our work site and extend our sympathies to the family of the worker for Colgate Scaffolding who fell from a sidewalk shed as it was being installed,” said Bob Liff, a spokesperson for Galaxy Developers, the project’s general contractor.
“We have complied with all required safety rules, and we expect all contractors and subcontractors on the site to do the same. We are cooperating with the Department of Buildings in any investigation into this tragic accident.”
The Fulton Street construction project had been cited by the buildings department for “immediately hazardous” safety conditions repeatedly since March 2021 — including for failing to provide a site safety manager and failing to provide safety equipment.
Galaxy and a subcontractor, CIP Services LLC, remedied issues in each instance and paid fines totaling $20,000 for three of the violations, DOB records show.
In a phone call, an employee of CIP Services LLC, who declined to give his name, asserted the firm had not worked at the 625 Fulton site for over a year and a half before ending the call.
Tenelema Puli is the second construction worker to die on the job in as many days this week, and the seventh construction worker fatality so far this year, compared to nine construction worker fatalities by this time last year. On Tuesday, Jeremy Rozan, 34, of Staten Island, fell to his death from the Roosevelt Avenue overpass in Queens and was hit by a passing driver on the Van Wyck Expressway below. The father of three was a member of the Structural Steel & Bridge Painters of Greater New York Local Union 806.
The Fulton Street site is under a full stop work order following Telemena Puli’s death, records show. The DOB’s investigation at the scene is “ongoing,” said agency spokesperson Andrew Rudansky, who added: “Additional enforcement actions are pending the results of this investigation.”
Meanwhile, DOB Commissioner Eric Ulrich resigned Thursday, as prosecutors investigate possible gambling activity tied to organized crime.
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators descended on the construction site Wednesday and opened their own probe to determine if there were any violations of workplace safety standards in connection to Tenelema Puli’s death, agency spokesperson Edmund Fitzgerald said.
Tenelema Puli’s fatal fall was not the first 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.
On Thursday afternoon, a few dozen building trades workers lit candles in front of the green construction fence enclosing the now-empty site where Tenelema Puli lost his life.
Just behind the fence, a long metal beam lay out of place next to stray planks of wood and a single black tool belt. Tall glass office and apartment buildings loomed overhead.
Percy Lujan, a 31-year-old demolition worker with LiUNA Local 78, said that Tenelema Puli’s death, like most construction deaths in New York City this year, took place on a non-union site.
All of the construction workers who died on the job in New York City in 2020, the most recent year where data is available, were non-union, according to an annual report from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health published this year. Statewide, 79% of worker deaths were on non-union job sites, the report found.
And 18% of workers who died on the job in 2020 were Latino, while Latinos account for only 10% of the construction workforce, NYCOSH found.
“In construction, sometimes they tell us to be careful with the material, be careful with the things we drop. Our tools many times be more worth than our own lives,” Lujan said. “We see this in the industry but I cannot imagine what it’s like at a non-union construction site.”
He continued: “For them, it’s just a fine. For this brother, right here he lost his entire life.”
City Councilmember Crystal Hudson (D-Brooklyn), who represents the area, addressed the crowd: “Raul’s life did not deserve to be taken in this way. No construction worker’s life deserves to be taken, union or non-union.”
Legislative efforts to enforce construction safety have languished. A state bill known as Carlos’ Law — named after construction worker Carlos Moncoya, who died on the job in Manhattan in 2015 — would drastically increase fines for unsafe employers who flout safety laws. It was approved by both chambers of the legislature but has not been signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.