The U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA office in Omaha and the Antelope County Sheriff’s office said they have opened investigations into the death Wednesday of a subcontractor worker on a road close to a wind farm construction site near Elgin.
Thomas L. Bales, 40, a crane operator from Denver, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, Antelope County Sheriff Bob Moore said in a news release.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, without identifying Bales, said he was employed by Tradesman International and was working for Wanzek Construction Inc., which is building the Prairie Breeze II Wind Energy Center near Elgin for Invenergy.
OSHA said initial reports indicated he was moving a 90-ton rough-terrain crane along a county road when the crane slipped into a ditch and overturned about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
An autopsy has been ordered by the Antelope County Attorney’s office.
OSHA said it has received complaints alleging workers at the site were exposed to hazards while working near county roads that aren’t closed and don’t have adequate warning signs. The agency said those allegations will be investigated along with the fatal incident.
“The safety of our employees, subcontractors, and everyone around our projects is our top priority,” Wanzek Construction Vice President Arnold Jelinek said in a statement. “We are currently working with all relevant officials to determine the cause of the accident. We have also deployed grief support resources to assist crew members at this time.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of the deceased. Out of respect for the family, and because there is an ongoing investigation, we currently are unable to release additional information on the incident.”
Darwin Crag, OSHA’s acting area director, said the victim had worked for Wanzek Construction for only 10 days.
“Even though temporary workers may only work on a jobsite a few days, weeks or months, employers still have a responsibility to train all employees, permanent and temporary, about the hazards to which they are exposed,” he said in a news release.
Wanzek, based in West Fargo, North Dakota, was cited by OSHA in response to a workplace fatality in January 2011 when an employee was pinned between a semi-trailer and a pickup. The employer received one serious citation for not adequately training employees to identify large vehicles on the construction site that presented a hazard, OSHA said. The case was resolved and the employer paid a penalty of $6,300.
The Prairie Breeze II Wind Energy Center is under construction. Lincoln Electric System is committed to buying all the electricity it generates.
An earlier phase of the project, the Prairie Breeze Wind Energy Center, began operations in May of 2014. Omaha Public Power District is buying all of the electricity generated there.
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