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Amid Nashville’s housing boom, safety rules are ignored and more workers die

Posted on 14 November 2019 by admin (0)
By Lacy Atkins / The Tennessean

By Lacy Atkins / The Tennessean

The two “tall skinny” homes looked like hundreds of others cropping up around Nashville. Wood framed, wrapped in white weatherproofing plastic, in a gentrifying neighborhood, with roofers laying asphalt.

Alfonso Dominguez, 60, climbed one of the North Nashville homes’ pitched roofs on a Wednesday last June. It was in the 80s, and the black asphalt was hot.

Dominguez was a runner for the three-man crew, and earned $10 an hour, his brother said. He carried shingles to his boss on one end of the roof, to a co-worker on the other, and he kept the roof tidy, a state safety inspector wrote in a report.

None of the men on the roof that day were wearing harnesses.

“I would tell him, ‘Don’t be working there. It’s not safe,’ ” said his brother Hermenegildo Dominguez, who also works in construction. “But it’s very difficult. We all need work.”

About 2:30 p.m., Alfonso Dominguez lost his balance and fell 24 feet into the neighbor’s yard. An ambulance took him to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he spent 11 days in a coma, with internal bleeding and head injuries, before dying.

Dominguez’s employer, subcontractor Alonso Luna, was also on the roof that day, but he didn’t report the death to the state, as required by law. Nor did the general contractor, Jimmy Brooks. Brooks didn’t have a building permit for the house on 14th Avenue North, either.

“They would tell him they needed to finish a house soon,” said Hermenegildo Dominguez, “but they’re working without any safety equipment.”

After the accident, Luna told the inspector from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration that Alfonso Dominguez wasn’t authorized to work on the roof. He declined to talk with a reporter when reached by phone in March. Brooks didn’t return multiple messages seeking comment for this story.

Dominguez was one of 16 construction workers who died in the Nashville metropolitan area during 2016 and 2017 — the deadliest two-year stretch in more than three decades, according to a Tennessean analysis of state and federal OSHA data. More workers died here in 2016 than in Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Memphis; and other areas with rapid growth or a similarly sized workforce, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

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