A 40-year-old roofing contractor in Rockland County, NY, about an hour northeast of New York City, with an extensive record of safety violations and two employee deaths, was charged on July 25 with violating federal safety regulations.
The principal of ALJ Home Improvement, Inc., Jose Lema, was arrested Tuesday morning at his home on a charge of knowingly and willfully violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration residential construction fall protection standards, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a complaint. The Rockland/Westchester Journal News first reported news of Lema’s arrest.
According to the federal complaint, Lema is accused of failing to protect his employees from fall hazards and causing injuries resulting in an employee’s death in February 2022 in the small Rockland County village of New Square, about eight miles north of Nanuet. Another worker died at a construction site in 2019.
Lema's single count carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Congress prescribes the maximum potential sentence; a judge would determine the sentence if Lema is convicted.
Two Dead Roofers
The Occupational Health Safety Administration already had an extensive file on ALJ and Lema, having cited the company multiple times for violating safety regulations for his workers; two died from falls while working for the company.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, from 2019 into 2023, OSHA performed eight investigations of ALJ worksites, issuing 24 willful citations, 16 serious citations and socking the concern with more than $2.3 million in penalties.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said the defendant's conduct should serve as a reminder that employers are responsible for keeping their workers safe and following regulations to ensure compliance if followed.
“Lema endangered the safety of his workers by disregarding regulations and failing to ensure his employees used fall protection systems," Williams’s statement read, in part. “[This] charge should [remind] small businesses that failure to comply with safety regulations can lead to unnecessary and preventable tragedy.”
The investigation was conducted with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General. Jonathan Mellone, a special agent in charge of the agency's northeast region, added, “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to hold those who jeopardize workers’ safety accountable.”
Two Lema employees have died on his job sites, with the most recent case happening in February 2022, when a roofer fell off the roof of a building under construction in Ramapo, a village located within New Square, NY.
The federal complaint on July 25 charged Lema with failing to ensure employees wore fall protection systems. The deceased worker and three other ALJ employees were installing a roof on a three-story multi-family apartment building in New Square when the accident happened.
Harnessed but Not Tethered
In the complaint, the government stated that ALJ employees ascended a ladder to the roof, but within 20 to 30 minutes of arriving, one of the men fell 30 feet off the roof, dying from his injuries. The complaint notes that the dead man was wearing a safety harness but without anything connected to the D-ring on the back of the harness that would have tethered him to the roof. The complaint also stated there were anchors on the roof to attach a rope, had there been one connected to the man’s harness.
The first ALJ employee to die, in February 2019, slipped off a new construction home in Kiamesha Lake, NY, and fell 35 feet to the ground, dying from his injuries, the complaint stated. Roofing Contractor first reported on this incident in August 2022.
OSHA determined the man had not been wearing a safety harness and issued citations to ALJ for, among other things, failure to ensure employees wear fall protection systems. ALJ settled and agreed to pay a penalty.
The complaint stated that there were five more incidents on five different worksites in New York and New Jersey between 2019 and 2022 in which ALJ employees were exposed to fall hazards. OSHA cited ALJ for failing to ensure its employees were using fall protection systems. In each case, ALJ settled and agreed to pay a penalty.
The complaint state that even after the first worker's death, Lema continued to violate OSHA standards and failed to protect his employees.
On Aug. 4, 2022, ALJ employees worked on an 18-foot roof in Ho Ho Kus, NJ, without apparent fall protection. They were wearing harnesses that were not secured to the roof. OSHA issued more citations, including willful failure to ensure employees wear fall protection systems.
Between 2019 and 2023, OSHA performed eight investigations of ALJ worksites, each resulting in issuing “willful” or “serious” citations. Following each inspection, the complaint states that OSHA compliance safety and health officials met with Lema and made him aware of his rights and obligations to his employees, the complaint states.
Lema, aka Jose Lema Mizhirumbay, is currently being held pending an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Victoria Reznik in White Plains, NY, federal court.