Building inspector died after climbing guard rails
City of Palo Alto-contracted inspector plunged to his death down an elevator shaft in December
A City of Palo Alto-contracted building inspector who plunged down an elevator shaft to his death had climbed on two guardrails that gave way, according to an investigative report released this week.
Gary Collins, 43, a resident of San Ramon, was working for an inspection-services company hired by the city when he was critically injured Dec. 6. He was inspecting a home under construction on the 1700 block of Waverley Street near Lowell Avenue, according to a report by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA).
He died Dec. 19 after being in a coma for nearly two weeks.
Collins was an employee of 4Leaf, Inc., a Pleasanton construction-management and engineering corporation. City of Palo Alto Chief Building Official Larry Perlin confirmed earlier this week that Collins was contracted by the city. He said that Collins fell on his head, striking the concrete floor below.
The city, however, did not make a public announcement about Collins' death in December, despite the fact that he was working on behalf of the city.
Perlin said he recalled a memo about Collins's accident or death that did circulate among some city staff. Collins was known to several staff members at the city's development center, as he had frequented the office for several months.
City Manager James Keene did not respond to inquiries regarding why the city did not make the death public.
Perlin speculated that the city didn't make the December incident public because Collins was not a city employee and worked for a contractor.
The Weekly learned of the incident from a reader after reporting on a separate April 17 accident, during which a construction worker fell 13 feet onto a concrete floor at a classroom-building project at Palo Alto High School.
The worker broke a hip and sustained facial injuries in that incident.
Perlin said he did not know what city policy is regarding making public fatal accidents. The city also did not issue any statement regarding the Palo Alto High School incident.
According to this week's Cal-OSHA report, Collins had been inspecting drywall installation in the kitchen, dining room and main hallway on the ground floor prior to the accident.
The 4-foot-wide and 7-foot-high elevator opening, located in the main hallway, was an opening in the wall. It connected the lower level of the house to the ground floor and upper story.
The elevator-shaft entrance was blocked on the ground floor by two guardrails. Witness testimony varied regarding the rail positions, but the report noted the bottom rail was secured to the wall by nails at a height of between 12 and 24 inches, while the top rail was secured with nails at about 40 to 43 inches high.
By all accounts, Collins climbed onto the guardrails to gain a better vantage point to inspect the shaft. He placed one foot on the lower rail and swung his other leg over the top rail, according to the witnesses. As he placed his weight on the rails, they came out of the wall.
Collins landed on his knees, with his body leaning into the shaftway. He was unable to regain his balance and fell down the shaft 12 feet to the concrete floor. He was not conscious when paramedics arrived, according to the report.
During the investigation, eyewitness testimony varied significantly about the position and integrity of the guardrails, but investigators found the rails were of acceptable construction, based on witness descriptions, according to the report.
Cal-OSHA did not issue a serious, accident-related violation in the case or against the contractor, Center-Line Construction of San Carlos, according to the report.
Cal-OSHA investigators did issue three "general citations" against 4Leaf, Inc., according to the report:
* On or before the time of the accident, the company did not document safety and health training required for every employee, including the name of each employee, training dates, types of training and the names of training providers.
* The employer did not have a written plan in place of procedures for responding to heat-related illness, including how emergency medical services would be provided if they were necessary.
* Employees were not trained regarding factors that create heat illness, or how to avoid heat illness, such as proper water consumption and acclimatization, symptoms of heat illness. They were not trained on the importance of reporting the symptoms to coworkers or supervisors, and were not given procedures for addressing heat illness.
Each violation carried a $200 fine and was to be abated by March 26, according to the report. The company has not contested the citations, Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Patricia Ortiz said.
Kevin Duggan, president of 4Leaf, Inc., responded by email on Wednesday regarding the violations.
"Our violations from Cal-OSHA were not related to the accident and were found to be general, or administrative, in nature," he wrote.
During an April 20 interview, Duggan said he is saddened by Collins' death.
"My heart goes out to the family. I feel very bad for him," he said. Duggan said that Collins had a wife and two children.
The company has worked on projects such as the Amtrak light-rail extension in Sacramento, the BART station in West Dublin and the light-rail project for San Francisco MUNI.
TALK ABOUT IT
Should the City of Palo Alto have informed the public about the death of the building inspector who had been contracted to work for the city? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.