Johnny Valek, a heavy equipment operator from St. Paul Minnesota, was killed at approximately 8 a.m. Tuesday while working on the construction of the new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium. Valek had been helping with the demolition of the old Diamond Products/Gillette building to make room for the construction of the new ballpark when something went wrong, and a huge piece of concrete, 10-by 30-feet, came crashing down on his backhoe.
According to family members, Valek had been planning to retire in a year, and had been looking forward to his daughter’s upcoming wedding. He had spoken recently to relatives and friends, saying that the work at the stadium site had been especially difficult, some of the toughest work he’d ever done at any time in his career, and he had even taken videos of the area around the work site to show the size of the dangerous concrete slabs he was dealing with.
During a news conference, Mayor Chris Coleman expressed his appreciation for the dangers faced by workers in the efforts to improve the local infrastructure.
“Men and women risk their lives on a daily basis to build our community,” said Coleman. “This is a tragic example of the risks that those individuals undertake.”
The operation to recover the body from the debris took five hours, and due to the dangerous terrain around the demolition site, a team of experts from the St. Paul fire department were needed in the effort.
Valek was a worker for Rachel Contracting, which is a subcontractor for Ryan Companies, the primary firm responsible for the construction of the new park.
Colin Barr, a regional president for Ryan, said in a statement that the the people at his company were, “deeply saddened,” by the tragic incident, and insisted that everyone at Ryan took safety, “very, very seriously.”
Valek’s brother Randy, who also works in construction and is the president of his own company, waited for hours at the site while the body was recovered. He said that his brother, Johnny, was a very experienced worker, with over 25 years on various construction jobs. Even so, the victim had mentioned that the demolition of the old Diamond Products/Gillette building was proving especially difficult, primarily due to the thick concrete walls. Roger Shaughnessy, one of Johnny’s friends, who was also at the scene of the accident said that he’d heard Valek express worries about a potential collapse.
The Minnesota OSHA has already started an investigation of the accident to make sure safety standards weren’t violated. Rachel contracting, and Ryan Companies have both been inspected by OSHA in the past. These inspections have turned up no violations.
Workplace fatalities are on the increase in Minnesota over the last few years. There were 70 in 2012, which is up by 10 percent over 2011, and construction work tends to account for a large percentage of these accidents.
Valek’s family released a statement Tuesday, saying that they wanted, “to know more about the event,” but that it was, “better at this time to focus on honoring his legacy.”
Jason Kane is a former construction foreman and avid blogger. Jason writes for www.fallprotectionusa.com a supplier of high quality construction safety equipment.