Experts: construction worker death shows danger of profession


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A construction worker died on Monday while working on a flood-mitigation site near Art Building West, marking the second construction-related death on campus this academic year.

Iowa City Fire Lt. Brian Rohr said a metal beam holding back water and dirt from a nearby pond collapsed and trapped Kevin Dean Hammons, 52, of Washington, Iowa, 10 to 15 feet underground, where rescue workers tried unsuccessfully to contact him.

Authorities recovered Hammons’ body around 12:30 p.m., nearly four hours after he became trapped. The Johnson County medical examiner pronounced Hammons dead at the scene.

“It illustrates how dangerous construction jobs are,” said Bill Gerhard, the president of the Iowa State Building & Construction Trades Council. “No matter how safe you are or think you are, something can go wrong.”

Hammons worked for the company Iowa Bridge and Culvert. His death marks the second on-site UI construction death in five months. The incident is under investigation from the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said agency Executive Officer Jens Nissen.

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Nissen said officials will survey the work site for violations as well as conduct interviews with employees present at the time of an accident.

“If we were to find violative conditions, we’d have to issue citations within six months of those findings,” Nissen said.

Tom Fosdick, a former employer of Swanson Glass Inc., died on Aug. 30, 2010, after losing his balance on a ladder and falling 24 feet onto a concrete slab. Nissen said Swanson Glass received several violations, which, according to the Associated Press, included a lack of safety using ladders.

The company was fined $8,750.

Having more than one construction-site death in a year on one campus is considered unusual to some local union officials.

“It’s rare to have more than one in a single locale such as the Iowa City area, and by no means are they common statewide,” said Scott Smith, the president of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,340 people died in workplace incidents in 2009, with 78 of those occurring in Iowa.

More than 800 construction workers were killed in 2009, including 38 construction workers crushed by or caught in collapsing materials.

Nationally, construction workers were second in terms of fatalities, behind trade, transportation, and utilities. Iowa OSHA investigated six fatalities in Iowa in 2010.

“I’m shocked to hear this,” Gerhard said about Hammons’ death. “Two deaths in one year is a high number, and one is too many.”

The investigation into Fosdick’s death will not affect the case involving Hammons. It is unknown if the UI will be involved in the investigation. Gerhard noted that once a construction job is awarded a general contractor, the contractor has control over the job site regardless of location.

Approximately 13 construction projects are active on the UI campus, according to Facilities Management, with three jobs near the site of Hammons’ death.

Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police — who called Hammons’ death a “tragic accident” at the scene — said he felt rescue efforts went smoothly overall among officials involved.

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