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On-Job Injuries Surging In Area

Aug 8, 2003 | Greenwich Time The number of serious workplace accidents in southwest Connecticut, including the recent death of a construction contractor in Old Greenwich, appears to be unusually high this year, said the area director for the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

"We've had more this fiscal year than in past fiscal years," said Robert Kowalski, director of OSHA's Bridgeport office, which covers Fairfield, New Haven and Middlesex counties.

On Tuesday, Gilberto Ortega, 40, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., died after falling from scaffolding at a MacArthur Drive house and sustaining serious head injuries, police have said. Ortega was a principal of G & R Brothers in Westchester County, N.Y.

Kowalski estimated that about four or five such "catastrophes" the term used to describe an incident in which someone dies or three or more people are hospitalized have already occurred this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Besides Greenwich, those accidents included construction-related catastrophes in Bethel, Danbury and Meriden, according to agency data.

In the past, such accidents have numbered about one or two, Kowalski said, adding that there was no apparent explanation for the increase but that the figures were relatively low. For example, Florida, a far larger state, normally has about 70 such accidents every year.

"We've been fortunate up here," Kowalski said.

Since the start of this fiscal year, Bridgeport OSHA inspectors have been sent to investigate 57 businesses involved in accidents, according to data the agency makes available on its Web site. About 30 of those firms, or slightly more than half, are in the construction business.

Kowalski said that the agency, which has jurisdiction over privately owned businesses, has seen a trend of more accidents involving people injured by falls. Additionally, many have involved small businesses.

"Nine times out of 10, it's the owner of the business that dies," he said.

Kowalski declined to comment on the Old Greenwich accident because there is an ongoing investigation.

Prior to this accident, OSHA had been sent to investigate six workplace accidents in town this fiscal year, according to the agency's data. Greenwich police reports also show another incident last week that has not yet been recorded in OSHA's database.

The last previous work-related fatality to occur in town was on July 27, 2001, when Jorge Rejas-Diaz, 44, of Mamaroneck, N.Y., died after falling 29 feet from the pitched roof of a Calhoun Drive home undergoing renovations.

OSHA does not investigate work-related accidents that involve motor vehicles or those involving government employees.

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