More than two years after Tobin “Toby” Williams was electrocuted while working on a light fixture at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, city administrators and union officials are jousting over whether enough has been done to ensure workers’ safety.
The city contends it has implemented new safety protocols and provided training to ensure workers are protected from a situation like the deadly one that befell Williams, who was electrocuted while working alone on a lift at the convention center in April 2019. He suffered severe injuries and later died at a Denver hospital. He was 27.
But leaders with the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that covers most of the city of Santa Fe’s workforce, say more could be done to improve workers’ safety.
“We thought there would a full-blow safety program that would give every single employee involved training on protocols and revamp all the procedures and policies that have been put in place,” union Vice President Gil Martinez said. ‘We haven’t seen that.”
City spokesman Dave Herndon wrote that since Williams’ death, the city has implemented a slew of changes, including evaluating training practices and facilities considered to be the highest risk for safety violations.
After Williams’ death, the state Environment Department’s Operation Safety and Health Bureau opened an investigation and found the city had committed multiple violations, including using untrained workers to replace electrical equipment. A review of Williams’ employment history also revealed he did not have the minimum qualifications to complete electrical work.
In 2020, the city and the Environment Department reached a settlement, with the city agreeing to pay $120,000 in fines. About half of the fines were to be dedicated to training and safety improvement, per the union’s request.
Lee Hunt, the attorney for the Williams family, said at the time he didn’t believe the fine was sufficient punishment. He and Williams’ family members could not be reached for comment for this story.
According to the terms of the settlement, the trainings were supposed to be completed within six months, but Herndon wrote the city received an additional six months to finish.
The city met with the state Construction Industries Division — the agency that regulates construction activities, permits and licensing — to establish an action plan to increase electrical safety.
The sessions, held in June 2019, led to job title changes to clarify who is qualified to complete journeyman work, said Public Works Department Director Regina Wheeler. The city, she added, also upped pay for journeymen, and established workers with that classification must oversee apprentices.
“Workplace safety is the utmost priority for the City as an employer,” Herndon wrote in an email. “The City works constantly on an ongoing basis to ensure workplace safety. Workers are encouraged to report any conditions that make them feel unsafe to their supervisors, with confidence that the sources of their concern will be addressed promptly.”
Herndon wrote the work to overhaul certain safety procedures began in 2019 and continued through 2020 “despite challenges due to the pandemic,” and included a new energy control policy approved in July. The policy was developed between fall 2019 and early 2020.
Martinez said he couldn’t remember any significant training in 2020, but acknowledged COVID-19’s impact on potential training plans.
“They have been having just recently some training going on,” Martinez said. “I don’t recall anything happening in 2020, especially not during the pandemic. Especially $60,000 worth.”
As COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines changed, the city pivoted to include distance learning and online trainings when possible, Herndon wrote.
In March, the city completed Occupational Safety and Health Administration electrical standards training for employees who are qualified to work on electrical equipment, as well as their supervisors. A month later, the city completed a variety of trainings, Herndon wrote. Trainings to ensure equipment is shut down and inoperable during repairs was completed in the past few weeks.
According to the city, there have been no electrical accidents since Williams’ death.
Still, Maxine Sandoval, the union’s safety committee chairwoman, said additional training has taken too long to complete, and should have been expedited following Williams’ death.
“It’s taken them two years to get some training implemented,” Sandoval said. “Two years is way too long to pay attention to what is going on with the city.”
Sandoval acknowledged the union has partnered with the city to complete some OSHA trainings. Nevertheless, Sandoval said some union members have lodged complaints about difficulties getting certain safety equipment replaced in a timely manner.
Herndon wrote Miguel Vigil was hired as senior safety specialist in September 2019, and has been providing job hazard assessment to help identify what personal protective equipment is needed to perform a task.
On May 14, the union submitted a complaint to the state’s Operational Safety and Health Bureau, alleging a series of safety violations at Santa Fe Wastewater Treatment Plant, including slip hazards next to open acid vats, exposed wires and open acid vats.
In response, the Environment Department completed an inspection of the facility on May 21. According to union representatives, the agency has begun interviewing employees.
The city has said it would address any concerns raised by the bureau following the investigation.