‘We almost died there’

Collapsed scaffold at IPI construction site sends 3 to ER

Workers of the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’s casino-resort project in Garapan stand outside the project site after a scaffolding collapsed last Friday at about 11am. (KIMBERLY BAUTISTA)

The collapse of a scaffold at the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’s casino-resort project in Garapan sent three men to the Commonwealth Health Center and were allegedly in critical condition upon arrival, with one suggesting that they could’ve died from the horrific accident that occurred at about 11am last Friday.

At 11:45am last Friday, IPI construction workers were seen piling out by the dozens from the IPI casino-resort project site after three men were rushed out of the jobsite to the Commonwealth Health Center after sustaining major injuries from the collapse.

The three were said to be local resident workers—two Chamorro and one Chuukese.

One of the three workers told Saipan Tribune Saturday afternoon that his injuries were so extensive that they may prevent him from getting back to work for a long time. Still, he said he was fortunate to have escaped the fall with his life.

“We almost died there. We are traumatized. Imagine almost 1,200 lbs of marble walls are on that scaffolding when the platform snapped. We fell on the garden and that saved us,” said the worker, who asked that his name be withheld pending further investigation of the accident.

He said he sustained three broken ribs, a broken ankle (left foot), and a huge laceration on his forehead.

“My left arm [was] crushed and my nerves are numb. According to the doctor, my fifth to seventh ribs are broken,” said the worker, adding that he was treated at the emergency room of the CHC for about six hours and later he had to return to the hospital because he could not breathe.

The worker also said he’s waiting for doctor’s order for a possible medical referral and, with the serious injuries he suffered and the required follow-up visits at the hospital, he is worried he may not able be able to help his family financially because he has to stop working for a while.

“I don’t know how I am going to support my family because I will be in and out of the hospital for more than 90 days,” he said.

When asked, the worker said that IPI or any of its representatives has yet to reach out to him or his family as of Saturday afternoon.

Unexpected collapse

According to one of the workers at the site, he believes the scaffolding of the third floor collapsed, which caused one man, who was on top of the platform, to fall from the third floor to the first floor of the building while two other men, who were below the scaffold, to fall from the second to the first floor.

A scaffold is a temporary structure on the outside of a building, usually made of wooden planks and metal poles used by workers while constructing, repairing, or cleaning a building.

A CHC source said that two of the men sustained critical injuries while one of the men sustained a foot injury.

In a statement later sent to the media, IPI said they pray for the speedy recovery of the workers involved and that they will cooperate fully with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Department of Public Works on investigating the cause of the accident.

IPI said it’s always unfortunate that incidents happen at construction site.

“We will continue to uphold and enforce high safety standards,” IPI said.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios also expressed concern for the construction workers’ health and welfare in a statement to the media.

Construction workers at the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’s casino-resort project in Garapan stand around while waiting for the job site to be cleared for entry last Friday. (KIMBERLY BAUTISTA)

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the workers who were involved in the accident…as well as with their families. We are grateful to our enforcement agencies and first responders for providing medical attention and to stop work until we deem the site safe and healthy for construction to continue. Our office, through our departments and agencies, closely monitored the situation throughout the afternoon to ensure that proper enforcement and protocol were established.”

Under investigation

The Department of Public Safety has yet to release any information on the incident or the status of the injured workers. DPS spokesperson Dre Pangelinan said the case remains under investigation and they will release information once details are available.

DFEMS reported that the department received a forwarded dispatch call on Friday at 11:24am from a male individual reporting multiple injuries from a collapsed scaffolding at the IPI construction site. DFEMS responded immediately with Medic-2 from the Garapan Fire Station arriving on site at 11:25am. Medic-1 from Susupe Fire station and Engine-2 from the Garapan Fire station were also sent to the scene.

At the scene, DFEMS personnel found three injured patients: two patients were on their backs while the third patient was sitting.

Patient 1, a 48-year-old Chamorro male, was complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing. Based on DFEMS assessment, the patient reportedly sustained a 1 1/2-inch laceration to his forehead. The patient stated he was working alongside another male individual when the man-made scaffolding fell on top of them, causing them to fall one story below.

Patient 2, a 48-year-old Chuukese male, was complaining of bodywide pain and said he was working alongside Patient 1.

Both patients said they did not lose consciousness. Both men were fully demobilized using a cervical collar and spine board to prevent any further injuries.

Patient 3, a 20-year-old Chamorro male, was complaining of bodywide pain and said he was working on top of the scaffold when it collapsed. He stated he fell about 10 feet, or one story, down and landed on his back but remained conscious.

Upon DFEMS assessment, the man reportedly had signs of swelling on his lower left le,g along with multiple contusions and abrasions to his lower back.

All three patients were treated and transported to CHC’s Emergency Room.

‘Quick response’

The statement from the Governor’s Office said that government enforcement agencies responded to the accident at once, that throughout the day, first responders and officials from DPS, DFEMS, Department of Public Works, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Commonwealth Casino Commission were active at the scene in conducting enforcement and implementing additional protective measures to ensure safety and compliance with Commonwealth and federal law.

Police officers directed traffic, cleared the area for firefighters and additional emergency medical technicians, and conducted interviews with eyewitnesses at the scene. After additional interviews at the hospital and inspections at the site, officials confirmed that the accident occurred as a result of the collapsed scaffolding.

Later that afternoon, DPW Building Safety officials inspected the site of the accident and issued a stop-work order at the construction site. DOL-OSHA officials were also on-site to assist in the assessment.

DPW will be reassessing the site this week with the construction site’s Quality Control manager and DOL-OSHA. Construction will be allowed to resume after it is determined that the site’s working conditions are safe and healthy for construction workers.

The CCC’s Division on Enforcement and Investigation were on-site that afternoon as well to monitor the situation, which did not have an impact on gaming operations. The CCC, in addition to the other agencies, will continue to monitor the situation.

Last Saturday morning, the Torres administration had a meeting with DPS Commissioner Robert Guerrero, DFEMS Commissioner Dennis Mendiola, Secretary of Public Works James Ada, and Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente to discuss the after-action reports and next steps to prevent this from occurring again. CHCC has confirmed with the Governor’s Office that the three individuals will be provided necessary treatment and recovery.

“Our top priority is to ensure everyone at the site, as well as everyone around the CNMI’s jobsites, can return home safely to their families at the end of each day. We have implemented safety processes and protocols to ensure jobsites remain safe. Both IPI, other developers, and construction partners are cooperating fully with local and federal law,” the statement from Governor’s Office read.

It added that DPW and DOL will be conducting site assessments to ensure a safer work environment for the future, and the CCC will continue their work of enforcing the casino operations.

“We will continue to share additional information as it becomes available. This administration remains committed to ensure that the project is completed safely, and we will continue to effectively respond to any incident at any one of the jobsites around the CNMI.”

This is not the first time an accident happened at the IPI construction site. A 43-year-old Chinese worker was killed at the site in 2017 after falling off a scaffold. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also identified other safety violations. (With reports from Ferdie de la Torre)

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