Contractor Alleges Haverhill Roofer ‘Chose Not to Wear a Harness’ Prior to Fatal Fall

The construction site at 98 Essex St., Haverhill, as pictured in January 2019. (WHAV News photograph)

The construction site at 98 Essex St., Haverhill, as pictured in January 2019. (WHAV News photograph)

As the Occupational Health and Safety Administration continues to investigate the circumstances that led to Haverhill roofer Carlos Ortiz’s workplace death, the general contractor overseeing the job site at 98 Essex St., tells WHAV it was Ortiz’s decision not to wear a safety harness. Further, the firm said the elevator shaft near where Ortiz was working on nine stories above ground had 42-inch guardrails around the opening.

Arguing that the guardrails complied with OSHA standards, Randolph-based NEI General Contracting told WHAV via email that a horizontal “life line” was installed for workers to attach safety harnesses to.

“It appears Mr. Ortiz chose not wear a harness and tie off. NEI and Progressive Roofing took precautionary measures to protect their workers. It was a tragic accident that could have been avoided had Mr. Ortiz followed standard safety protocols,” NEI’s Managing Principal Josef Rettman told WHAV in an email submitted by crisis management communications firm Rhino Public Relations earlier this month.

The company said Ortiz, who was employed by River Street’s Progressive Roofing at the time of his death, had more than 10 years of experience.

Though the workplace conditions leading up to Ortiz’s fatal fall remain under investigation by OSHA, the federal agency that advocates for employees may fault both the general and sub-contractor through the agency’s “multi-employer citation policy,” established in 1999.

The investigation into Ortiz’s death is standard procedure following a fatality, both OSHA and NEI confirm. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett’s office is conducting a concurrent investigation, as the state office does with all unexplained deaths. Determinations in both cases are not expected for several months.