Campus appeals state citations related to custodian death

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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UC Berkeley is appealing state citations for regulatory violations related to the death of custodian Damon Frick in April.

Frick was operating a motorized lift April 7 to clean the upper windows of International 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 campus appealed all five violations found earlier this month by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The department’s investigation determined that the campus did not properly document maintenance and inspections of the lift, did not maintain a manual on site, ineffectively trained employees to use the lift and did not ensure that the lift was assembled correctly.

The lift tipped after Frick placed one of the outriggers meant to stabilize the machine in the wrong channel. In its citation to the campus, the department said worker training was ineffective because the last training occurred in March 2012, and the lift was only used about once per year with no practice in between uses.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said the lift carried a label warning that if the stabilizing outrigger were inserted into the wrong channel, serious injury or death could occur.

“Filing the appeal preserves our right to contest the citation and gives us the opportunity for further discussions,” Gilmore said in an email. “We continue to have concerns about the citation, given that Mr. Frick was thoroughly trained in the use of the equipment.”

In the appeal sent Thursday, an attorney representing the campus said the incident was an independent, unforeseeable and isolated employee action. The campus’s appeal denies that regulations were violated and states that the $26,250 penalty is unreasonable.

The state classified two of the alleged violations as serious, meaning that there is “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result.” But the campus alleges that the investigation did not give the campus legally adequate notice before issuing the serious violations.

The union that represented Frick, however, 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 job better suited for a building maintenance worker, not a janitorial custodian, said union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse.

The union asked that the university provide better training to workers on their rights to deny work they considered dangerous or outside their job descriptions, alleging that workers were being pushed into unsafe tasks because they did not know their rights.

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

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