Probe of Santa Fe city worker’s death finds potential safety violations

April 9, 2019 GMT

Preliminary results of an ongoing investigation into a city employee’s fatal electrical accident at Santa Fe’s convention center last week shows possible violations of the state Occupational Health and Safety Act, a New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman said Monday.

“Much like a police investigation, it’s one of those things where you can’t really give much detail while there’s an ongoing investigation, but it does appear that there were violations [of the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Act] at this point,” said the spokeswoman, Maddy Hayden.

The stated purpose of the act is “to assure every employee safe and healthful working conditions.” The law says, among other things, that employers must provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Kristine Mihelcic, the city’s director of constituent and council services, said the city has not received any results from the investigation.

“However, we will implement any and all recommendations/requirements from [the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau] once their investigation is complete,” Mihelcic wrote in an email.

Hayden said she didn’t know when the agency investigating the incident that led to the death of 27-year-old Tobin “Toby” Williams would complete its review.

“My understanding is that they can take up to six months,” Hayden said. “That would be in a really particularly complex investigation, but they do take a while.”

Bureau officials are scheduled to meet with the city for a “closing conference” on Tuesday, she said.

“It kind of wraps up the initial stages of the investigation,” Hayden said.

A week ago Monday, Williams, a mechanical structural apprentice who had been on the job for about seven months, was working on an electrical project at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center when he was badly injured, apparently while the power was still on. He was alone on a lift when the incident happened, according to eyewitness Israel Guerra de la Rosa.

Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, declined to comment and referred inquiries on the matter to Mihelcic.

Randall previously said Williams was working on a project in which the convention center is changing light fixtures from fluorescent to more energy-efficient light-emitting diodes.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, but he somehow got a hold of a hot wire and was pretty badly injured,” Randall said.

Williams planned to enroll in graduate school this fall at the University of New Mexico to study archaeology, his father said. A police report erroneously listed his age as 28.

Guerra de la Rosa said last week that paramedics had to wait to tend to Williams until the electricity was turned off. But fire Chief Paul Babcock said Monday he spoke with the first paramedic on scene, who told him “the power was off prior to his arrival.”

Randall told the Albuquerque Journal last week he didn’t know why the power was still on while Williams was working.

“Definitely it should have been turned off and they have the proper testers to test and be sure that the power is turned off as well,” Randall told the newspaper. “We don’t know why.”

Hayden said she didn’t believe the state had ordered the convention center to stop electrical work. But she said there was a discussion “with the city to make sure that there was a basic understanding of what happened and steps were being taken to make sure that it didn’t happen again in the interim.”

Asked whether the incident had resulted in any policy or personnel changes, Mihelcic said the city would be assembling a committee to evaluate citywide practices and policies.

“The city lost one of our team members. We lost Tobin Williams,” she wrote. “We take this very seriously. We don’t want this to ever happen again.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.