OSHA: 22 violations worth $258,000 in fines led to a Miami construction diver’s death

An investigation into the death of a South Miami-Dade construction company’s diver found lack of proper life jackets, poor assessment of the job’s perils and divers asked to do things beyond their training, the Occupational Safety Health Administration said last week.

OSHA wants Downrite Engineering to pay $258,935 for 22 violations leading to the Jan. 26 workplace death.

Downrite has until Aug. 14 to let the U.S. Department of Labor division know whether it plans to just pay the proposed fines, request an informal meeting with OSHA, or contest the violations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

This summer, two Miami-Dade companies have chosen the contest option after OSHA investigations of workplace deaths of their employees.

READ MORE: A Miami company is fighting $40,000 of OSHA fines after the electrocution death of a Kendall husband

Downrite Engineering hung up on a Miami Herald reporter, then put the reporter on hold for several minutes during each of two subsequent phone calls. Downrite also didn’t return an email seeking comment sent through the website.

Death of a Downrite diver

Downrite’s work at the Lennar at Westview housing development, 2601 NW 119th St., turned tragic around 10:30 a.m. Jan. 26.

OSHA’s description:

“An employee and coworkers were performing diving operations in a canal with about 8 feet of water to dredge for installation of an underwater pipe. None of the workers were dive-certified and some only had “in-house” or on-the-job training in the operations.

“The workers took turns rotating between diving or dive tending. The employee was on a dive rotation when he lost consciousness under the water and subsequently drowned.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Rogelio Vandamas told Ted Scouten of Miami Herald news partner CBS News Miami that the diver’s co-workers “noticed that his bubbles, about five minutes, they noticed he wasn’t communicating with them. They called 911 and they tried to locate him as well. His total dive, I understand was 40 minutes.”

Vandamas also said conditions made the rescue attempts tough.

The pipe “obscures the sun, so we have no light to help us with the search,” he said. “Also, since everybody’s been working in there, there’s sediment in the water so our lights are ineffective helping us see underwater. Our divers dove by feel until they found the diver in the pipe.”

Despite being airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital, the diver died. He was 48.

READ MORE: The lift collapsed and killed a worker. His Miami employer is fighting the $58,000 proposed fine

What were the 21 ‘Serious’ violations OSHA found?

Of the 22 safety violations OSHA investigators found, 21 fell under the “Serious” classification and one was Other-Than-Serious. Four violations received no proposed fine. None were classified as “Willful.”

Here are the Serious violations that OSHA found at Downrite’s dive site, from the Citation and Notification of Penalty:

“Employees performing diving operations were exposed to a drowning hazard in that they were assigned duties and tasks beyond their experience and training.”

“All dive team members were not trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid (American Red Cross standard course or equivalent).”

The person “designated by [Downrite] was not at the dive location in charge of all aspects of the diving operation affecting the safety and health of dive team members.”

The safe practices manual didn’t have all of the following: “Safety procedures and checklists for diving operations; assignments and responsibilities of the dive team members; equipment procedures and checklists; emergency procedures for fire, equipment failure, adverse environmental conditions, medical illness and injury.”

The dive location didn’t have an emergency aid list with all of the following: “a list of the telephone or call numbers for an operational decompression chamber, accessible hospitals, available physicians, available means of transportation and nearest U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center.”

The dive location didn’t have “a first aid kit appropriate for the diving operation and approved by a physician.”

Downrite didn’t “provide an American Red Cross standard first aid handbook or equivalent.” Also, “a bag-type manual resuscitator with transparent mask and tubing” wasn’t available.

“Planning of a diving operation did not include an assessment of the safety and health aspects of the diving mode.”

“Planning of a diving operation did not include an assessment of the surface and underwater conditions.”

Downrite “did not ensure that required emergency procedures were available at the worksite.”

Before the diving operation, Downrite didn’t brief the dive team members on “the tasks to be undertaken; safety procedures for the diving mode; any unusual hazards or environmental conditions likely to affect the safety of the diving operation.; any modifications to operating procedures necessitated by the specific diving operation;” before making individual diver assignments, Downrite didn’t ask the dive team members current physical fitness state; nor did Downrite “ notify the dive team of the procedures for reporting physical problems or adverse physiological effects during and after the dive.”

Downrite didn’t “provide a means to assist an injured diver from the water.”

Downrite didn’t “provide an operational two-way communication system to the crew at the dive location.”

“The air compressor wasn’t tested” nor was its maintenance up to date.

“Air compressor intakes were not located away from areas containing exhaust or other contaminants.” In this situation that meant “the air inlet of the air compressor was adjacent to a truck with the engine running.”

Divers didn’t “have an umbilical cord that was marked in 10-foot increments.”

Downrite didn’t provide air masks with a non-return valve “at the attachment point between the helmet or mask and hose which closed readily and positively.”

Divers weren’t wearing safety harnesses.

Downrite didn’t “provide a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vests.”

“A lifesaving skiff was not immediately available at locations where employees are working over or adjacent to water.”

“A diver was not stationed at the underwater point of entry when surface-supplied air diving was conducted in enclosed or physically confining spaces.” In this situation, that meant a stand-by diver wasn’t at the culvert entrance.

“Our investigation found Downrite Engineering Corp. did not follow required standards to protect workers who conduct commercial diving activities,” OSHA Area Office Director Condell Eastmond said. “This company’s failures before, during and after this tragedy are inexcusable and now this diver’s family, friends and co-workers are left to grieve their terrible loss.”

Who is Downrite Engineering?

Did Downrite Engineering send unqualified divers into a situation that ended in death?
Did Downrite Engineering send unqualified divers into a situation that ended in death?

State records say Downrite registered to do business in Florida in 1984. Samuel LoBue, listed as the president, treasurer, secretary and director, is the only officer on the 28 years of state filings available on sunbiz.org.

Before the Lennar at Westview death, OSHA had investigated Downrite 13 times over the last 10 years and fined the South Miami-Dade company four times.

Feb. 17, 2022: Downrite was cited for three violations, including using accident prevention tags as a substitute for accident prevention signs and moving construction equipment on a road that wasn’t made to safely handle such equipment or vehicles. Downrite settled a $31,080 penalty down and paid $18,648.

Nov. 13, 2019: Downrite was cited for starting a project without making provisions for “prompt medical attention in case of serious injury” and not reporting an injury within 24 hours that requires inpatient hospitalization, amputation or the loss of an eye. Downrite settled a $23,133 fine down to $13,885.

Aug. 11, 2017: Improper use of flaggers or attire worn by flaggers. Downrite paid a $10,864 fine.

Aug. 11, 2016: Downrite was cited for failing to report within 24 hours an inpatient hospitalization, amputation or the loss of an eye via a work-related incident. The company contested the $5,000 fine and it was reduced to $2,500 by the review committee.