4 Investigates: City of Santa Fe issued cease-and-desist following workplace death
July 15, 2019 10:29 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. — City workers in Santa Fe have been barred from performing electrical or maintenance work on city property following an investigation by New Mexico’s licensing department. The investigation stems from a deadly workplace accident earlier this year.
The 4 Investigates team obtained a copy of a cease-and-desist order issued to the City of Santa Fe on June 5 by the New Mexico Construction Industries Division. The order demands the city stop all construction work at the convention center and all other city properties.
The investigation revealed that uncertified city employees were performing electrical, mechanical and plumbing work at the Santa Fe Convention Center, which is a violation of state law.
On April 1, city employee Toby Williams was “fixing a light fixture” at the convention center when he was electrocuted, according to a police report. He died three days later at a hospital in Denver.
According to state records, Williams was not certified to do the kind of work he was performing when he the incident occurred – and neither were his primary supervisors.
“Not only was the work being completed by Mr. Williams, not being performed by a certified journeyman but there was no certified journeyman present to directly supervise Mr. Williams in the work which he was completing as a city employee,” said Acting CID Director Martin Romero in the cease and desist letter.
A FAMILY GREIVES
Neil Williams and his wife Paige peer into an empty room in their Santa Fe home. It’s a heartbreaking sight yet filled with memories of Toby’s life.
In every corner of their Santa Fe home, dried roses adorn the walls. Toby brought the immense number of flowers home the week before he died.
Toby’s father Neil Williams told 4 Investigates his son was a “bright spirit” and an “intellectual seeker” who was working for the city to pay down his student loans. Toby had plans to enroll in a graduate program at the University of New Mexico to study archeology.
“He really cared about history and how you got at history,” said Paige Grant, Toby’s step-mother.
While the family continues to grieve, they also continue to question what happened.
“We lost the future with him and it was unnecessary,” said Neil Williams. “I don’t want it to happen to other families just because their loved ones happens to work in a workplace that doesn’t take the care it needs to.”
“There was literally no one in charge – there was literally no one licensed providing the required supervision and training… being physically present as required by law,” he said.
Aside from suspending all maintenance and electrical work by Santa Fe city workers, the state is also demanding the city provide detailed records including worker qualifications and assignments.
Acting CID director Romero said he is also requiring additional training for city workers and will likely place the city on probation for at least a year.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about punishing the city. It’s about them following the rule of law so we don’t have these kinds of accidents,” said Romero. “This is life safety. This protects people. This work has to be done under the supervision of a journeyman so we don’t have fatalities.”
“In my eyes, there are no excuses,” added Romero.
The 4 Investigates team requested an interview with the Santa Fe city manager. However, the public works director Regina Wheeler was made available for an interview instead.
When asked about how Toby Williams – someone who was not a licensed electrician or a licensed journeyman – sent in to do complicated electrical work, Wheeler declined to comment since the incident is still under investigation by the City of Santa Fe.
However, Wheeler said it is looking forward to partnering with the state to ensure a safe work environment, which includes improving awareness and documentation.
“If there’s anything that comes out of that that’s positive, it’s that we all take a look and make sure that that doesn’t happen again – and that all of our workers are safe and we can make appropriate assignments and have correct licensure and training for any assignment that anybody does,” said Wheeler.
The question remains: why was this compliance failure not caught earlier?
State officials concede that compliance of the permit rules are largely an “honor system.” However, Acting CID Director Romero told 4 Investigates that policy approach is being reviewed.
“There could be perhaps some changes that we need to look at and are looking at – but again, it’s the honor system where you jot this stuff down,” said Romero. “However, our inspectors do periodic audits of the ledger of the work that’s being done.”
While the pain of Toby’s loss is still very raw, his family is not giving up on their search for answers.
“I’d ask the people who employed my son and directed him and managed him and managed his work just to honestly admit that the city was not even close to having a safe work place – not just for Toby – but according to regulators, the entire city workforce,” said Neil Williams.
The state confirms it has an ongoing criminal investigation into the incident. However state officials are not commenting any further on the investigation.
As for the City of Santa Fe, officials say they will no longer ask city workers to do construction work at the convention center. Any future work will be contracted out to professional licensed contractors.
Updated: July 15, 2019 10:29 PM
Created: July 15, 2019 08:43 PM
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