Safety and OSHA News

Company pleads guilty to manslaughter, pays $852K in death of worker

A construction company has pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter for causing the death of a construction worker. 

Juan Chonillo fell 29 stories to his death on Sept. 21, 2017 at a construction site in New York City.

SSC High Rise Inc. has paid $842,000 in restitution and a $10,000 corporate fine, the maximum permitted under New York law.

In February 2016, SSC was hired as a subcontractor to perform concrete superstructure work on a 60-story residential building. Construction started in July 2016.

As part of its work, SSC used a three-tiered, bracketed scaffolding system from PERI Formwork Systems Inc. PERI guidelines specify that people must not be inside or on top of a climbing unit if the platform is unattached to a building facade or being moved while unhooked and unsecured.

On Sept. 21, 2017, an SSC foreman directed employees to unhook a PERI platform from its wall shoes and use a crane to move the platform unit laterally while five workers were still on the unit, in violation of the building code and PERI guidelines.

During the move, the platform became stuck to one of the wall shoes, which prompted Juan Chonillo, a carpenter, to release his harness so that he could unjam the platform.

The platform, still connected to the crane, jolted and dangled in the air, causing Chonillo to fall 29 stories to his death. He was 44-years-old and the father of five children.

As a result of the investigation into Chonillo’s death, authorities also uncovered wage theft and insurance fraud committed by SSC.

From March 2014 to November 2016, SSC underreported nearly $2 million in payroll by paying workers in cash. Therefore, SSC was able to pay significantly smaller premiums to the New York State Insurance Fund. As part of its plea, SSC has agreed to pay $325,000 in restitution to the insurance fund.

Between August 2011 and September 2017, SSC failed to pay more than 50 workers $517,000 for overtime. The company has paid full restitution and fees totaling $568,700.

Angela Chonillo, the victim’s sister, wrote a letter which stated, “Nothing they do will give me back by brother or his children their father.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. called for higher corporate penalties for killing and maiming workers and vowed to continue prosecuting cases such as this one.

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