UPDATED: Wacker plant construction idled after death of two workers
CHARLESTON, TN (WRCB/AP) -- Nearly two years and 900,000 safe worker hours into construction of Wacker Chemie's almost $2 billion polysilicon plant in Charleston, 1,200 contract workers can't so much as pound a nail.
Tennessee safety inspectors are looking into everything today following the death of two workers Wednesday night.
Bradley County Fire Chief Dewey Woody said the workers fell about 140 feet after a work platform failed late Wednesday night. There were no other injuries.
The Bradley County Medical Examiner's office has identified the two workers who fell to their death as Hugo Mendoza, 45, from Buford, GA and Louis Ochoa, 31, from Hollywood, FL (although Ochoa's work permit says his name is Trinidad Rodrigo). The two worked for Wacker sub-contractor Baker Concrete Construction, which currently has about 300 employees working at the site.
The two worked the 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. shift, meaning the incident happened about six hours into their shift.
The Medical Examiner, who went to scene Wednesday night, said it appeared both men did have on safety harnesses. However, he did not see whether those safety harness where properly tethered.
The bodies have been sent to the UT Forensics Lab in Knoxville.
About 1,000 workers per day are employed during the construction in Bradley County.
In a company statement, Wacker Polysilicon Vice President and Site Manager Dr. Konrad Bachhuber said the company is deeply saddened by the loss of life.
Some Wacker milestones:
April 4, 2011: Wacker Chemie AG officially started construction work on a fully integrated polysilicon-production site in the USA. The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by numerous representatives from politics, business and local government. WACKER's CEO Rudolf Staudigl and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam broke the ground for the large-scale project.
October 1, 2011 Wacker Chemie AG began vertical construction on its polysilicon site in Charleston, Tenn. The three largest buildings of the plant began moving upward with the installation of precast walls.
March 12, 2012 The first tank for WACKER POLYSILICON NORTH AMERICA arrived; it is the smallest tank of many more to come for the plant currently under construction in the Tennessee Valley. These tanks are essential to WACKER's polysilicon production process.
March 14, 2012 The plant's first operational building -- the Tennessee Distribution Center -- is completed. During plant construction, the 165,000-square-foot building will hold equipment for the construction of the plant; following plant construction, the building will hold WACKER product, parts and packaging materials. Vertical construction for the Tennessee Distribution Center began Nov. 23, 2011. From start to completion on the construction of the building, no injuries occurred.
March 28, 2012 More than 900,000 safe work-hours have been recorded at the WACKER POLYSILICON construction site in Charleston, Tenn. since Aug. 8, 2010. Contributors to the milestone include a proactive site-specific safety program, a detailed orientation, pre-planned work activity structures, effective implementation overall by contractors and measured objectives.
More on Baker Concrete Construction:
Wednesday night's fatal accident is prompting state inspectors to ask questions of all parties involved, including sub-contractor Baker Concrete Construction.
It's not the first time the company has been under the microscope.
According to OSHA's website, Baker has been inspected 19 times in seven states since 2007.
Those inspections resulted in 13 violations. Three of them serious, the rest minor.
Baker has one case pending in South Carolina, where it faces a material handling and equipment violation.
A Baker spokesperson insists the company has a pretty solid rating, even receiving a nomination from Wacker in March for a site safety award.
Baker Concrete released the following statement Wednesday evening:
"Baker Concrete mourns the loss of two of our co-workers. At approximately 10:30 p.m. Thursday, two Baker co-workers died while performing their duties at the Wacker Chemie Polysilicon project in Charleston, Tennessee.
Baker co-workers Hugo Mendoza, 45, of Buford, Georgia, and Luis Ochoa, 31, of Hollywood, Florida both perished. Baker mourns the loss of these two valued co-workers and fathers, and extends our prayers and heartfelt condolences to their families, friends, and fellow co-workers. It is impossible to adequately express our grief for the families of these two men. This type if accident is heartbreaking, emotionally overwhelming, and represents a feeling of personal loss that is shared throughout all of Baker Concrete.
Our investigation is ongoing and the information we have gathered is still incomplete. We will continue our thorough investigation as part of our commitment to be an incident and injury free company where all our co-workers return home safely to their loved ones. Sadly, today this is not a reality for two of our extended Baker families."
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.