State investigation of International House custodian’s death alleges 5 regulation violations

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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A state investigation that lasted nearly five months and included multiple interviews with International House employees concluded that UC Berkeley did not ensure that a motorized lift was put together correctly, which led to the death of 45-year-old custodian Damon Frick in April.

Frick was operating the lift to clean the upper windows of the north wall of I-House’s auditorium when the lift tipped over. He fell about 22 feet and sustained various injuries, leading to his death two days later.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s citation and notification of penalty, obtained by The Daily Californian late last week, alleged five violations of California regulations.

Frick placed one of four outriggers used to stabilize the lift in the wrong channel, which carried a danger label, said Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs. She also said UC Berkeley fully trained Frick in the use of the lift.

But the state investigation alleged that the training was ineffective, with the last training taking place in March 2012 and the machine only being used about once a year with no practice in between usage.

The citation was issued Sept. 9 and outlined $26,250 in penalties.

Among the five alleged violations was a lack of documentation for safety inspections and lift maintenance. There was also no manual maintained on site, according to the citation.

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UC Berkeley was supposed to keep records going back three years on the maintenance of the lift and records going back one year on inspections of work practices and conditions.

The campus must either appeal the allegations or pay the penalties within 15 days of receiving the citation. UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said the campus had received the citation and was reviewing it and considering its options.
Gilmore declined to comment on particular allegations in the citation.

“Above all else, this was a tragic accident and our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mr. Frick. We are cooperating fully with all authorities and will continue to work diligently on all areas of employee safety,” Holmes said in an email.

Both the allegedly ineffective training and lift-assembly problems were classified as “serious” violations, meaning there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result.”

The union that represented Frick — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — filed a complaint with the state in May, alleging several of the same violations. It also issued a formal grievance with the university.

The union asked the campus to stop assigning workers “abnormally hazardous tasks” and to conduct a review of “hazardous duties” performed on campus, according to a union press release.

The union also alleged that the campus and I-House knowingly had Frick perform duties outside of his job description. Cleaning the auditorium’s upper windows was a duty better suited for a building maintenance worker, not a janitorial custodian, said union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse.

“Safety obviously impacts workers, but we’re also in the safety business,” Stenhouse said. “One of our top priorities is that this system is the safest it can be.”


Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.

Correction(s):
A previous version of the infographic attached to this article stated that UC Berkeley was fined $325 for not documenting safety inspections of the lift. In fact, it was fined $375.