A Santander worker reportedly fell to his death while he was working on the rooftop of one of the buildings of the Santander sugar mill, in Banana Bank Area, Cayo District. The deceased has since been identified as Nelson Sotog, a 22 year old Guatemalan National. According to reports, the incident occurred some minutes before 5 pm on Tuesday March 19th. Sotog was working with another individual roofing one of the buildings. Reports are that he lifted a piece of zinc when a harsh wind suddenly blew causing him to lose his balance and fall. We spoke to the Public Relations Officer at Santander, Beverly Burke, who told us about the most unfortunate incident.
“An extremely unfortunate incident that occurred. One of our workers indeed did lost his life. We are in the construction phase and in taking up the actual roofing for one of the buildings where the accident occurred. As you know, its the normal structure for sugar mills and unfortunately I don’t have the exact height but he was working and apparently there was some shift in wind and he lost his balance.”
Immediately after the incident, Sotog was transported to the Western Regional Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. The Guatemalan embassy was notified about the incident and the body was transported back to Guatemala on Wednesday. If you can recall, in April earlier this year, Santander workers protested their salary arrangement. At that time, one of the issues being pushed was that workers did not feel safe enough working at such dangerous heights. But according to the Public Relations Officer Beverly Burke, the company ensures that their workers have all the necessary safety gear.
“I will categorically state that all employees working at a certain height, they have all the safety measures in place. That includes hard hats, gloves, vest, harness necessary boats, everything that is required to work at that height. I know the issue that you are referring to but that is totally different. That is not the issue at hand a couple weeks ago. Safety is one of the things that we stress the most, because we know that it is a risk working at a certain height and therefore all the health and safety precautions and that has been from day one that we started to take up the height on that building. Those things have been in place and will always be in place.”
Emanuel Pech – Plus TV Reporter
“With all those safety measures, what do you think went wrong? Is it a case where he did not follow all necessary procedures?”
“Witnesses account is exactly that. He decided not to follow protocol. It is really unfortunate because it’s such a great risk and to know that you have what you need and for whatever reason you decided that that is not the protocol that you will follow. I think it sends a very strong message that we don’t put those things in place because we want to stress anybody out but because it is very important.”
And while Santander is on a strict deadline to start production in February of next year, continuity, according to Beverly Burke, is almost on the backburner.
” When it happened, all work stopped immediately. We gathered the workers . I think because we had to deal with that situation first in that order, it was dealt with. Then the following day, we had no work at all where employees were being talked to and counseled because it stills sends chills through me. I wasn’t there and I could just imagine what it is for those who saw it because I know how I feel. He was working in teams. These guys have been working together for a while. It has been an extremely difficult for us. Continuity is now almost on a backburner for us because we have to make sure that our employees are ok. These guys work almost like family so it is important that we look after their wellbeing first.”
Of note is that Santander employs over 650 Belizeans- 75% of their work force.