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New York Scaffold Fall, Dec. 2007
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EXTRACTS FROM NEWS REPORTS

At 10.30 am on Friday December 7, 2007, two brothers Alcides and Edgar Moreno, plunged 47 stories from a Manhattan building (Solow Tower, at 265 East 66th Street, at Second Avenue) when their window-washing platform (a swing scaffold, a built-in feature of the tower) collapsed — killing one and gravely injuring the other.

Edgar was cut in half by a fence in an alleyway below, and Alcides suffered extensive critical injuries, including blood clots in the brain, collapsed lungs, damaged kidneys, numerous bone fractures and extensive internal injuries.

The platform was a 16-foot long aluminum and wood swing scaffold, a built-in feature of the tower. It is anchored by cables to a circular rooftop track that lets workers move the platform so window washers can reach any point on the facade. The scaffold cables are motorized, allowing the washers to move up and down at the press of a button. At the roof, the cables are strung through arms that reach out over the parapet and hold the scaffold in place within reach of the windows.

The equipment at Solow Tower had been inspected in June. Inspectors, he said, found cables, harnesses, controls and other safety equipment to be working properly.

One scenario for the accident, an investigator said, was that the scaffold cable had not been securely anchored to the track on the roof, and that when the men stepped on the scaffold, they and the platform plunged down.

Another scenario, an investigator said, was that the cables had come loose from the track in some way, then whipsawed around and dragged the men over the parapet before they had a chance to hook up their safety harnesses.

Part of the investigation will be to determine what if any role language played in the accident. It has been suggested that the company that serviced the equipment in the days prior to the accident, left written instructions in English for the cleaning workers that they may have not understood.

They knew their scaffold had a mechanical problem before they ascended the tower, but were assured by a boss that it had been fixed. The brothers had told him [their brother-in-law] of at least three problems with the Solow Tower scaffold this year, including one that had put it out of commission in the summer ... their boss had called them and said, ‘The scaffolding was fixed, come to work'.

Neither worker was wearing a harness, as required on all window-washing jobs, but said it was unclear if this was negligence or if the men had been dragged over the edge of the roof by whipsawing cables before they had a chance to put on their harnesses.

The Morenos had come from the town of Macará in southern Ecuador, Alcides 12 years ago and Edgar ten years ago. Both had become American citizens.

KEY POINTS: (1) PPE, (2) MAINTENANCE, (3) LANGUAGE

 

Left: Police moving Alcides to hospital

Right: Fallen debris of the swinging scaffold

Above Right: The covered body of Edgar