Jose Araujo, 30, was hunched over his shovel, digging a ditch with a Bridgeport, CT, street behind him, when an out-of-work mechanic shot him in the back and killed him on the morning of March 26.
The accused shooter, 33-year-old Gregory Weathers Jr., has admitted to killing the Burns Construction employee, a native of the Cape Verde islands near Africa, in what Weathers told police was “a labor dispute.” Weathers reportedly had asked Araujo’s foreman for a job minutes before the shooting, and was told to fill out an application at the company office. Instead, the gunman opened fire and hit the victim, whom he reportedly did not know.
About two weeks earlier in Atlanta, another construction worker died from a gunshot wound after he confronted a man who had broken into his truck, apparently to steal tools, while it was parked in front of a Kroger grocery store.
Construction sites have always been magnets for thieves looking to score building supplies left outdoors overnight and, on occasion, for criminals dumping bodies in a place where few venture after dark. Vandals have long defaced construction barriers, and drug users are known to frequent the deserted sites after hours.
But far fewer violent crimes are reported on job sites, making Araujo’s death all the more shocking. Lately, however, the construction-site-as-crime-scene has become a more familiar story on the nightly news.
On Dec. 30, a construction worker was hit in the head by a bullet—but survived—in a drive-by shooting in St. Louis, MO. Four men inside the car shot about a dozen bullets at a construction site as a morning crew worked on a new parking lot in front of Lumiere Place Casino.
Although the workers said they did not know the shooters, their employer—a subcontractor—quit the job the next day.
Eight days earlier in Chicago, a robber shot and killed a man who was rehabbing a vacant home. The shooter and an accomplice walked up to the 44-year-old victim and his co-worker, who were standing outside taking a break, and ordered them to kneel. When the partner complied and the victim did not, the robbers took the partner’s money and cellphone and struck him in the head. Then they shot the victim in the head.
And on Nov. 28, a Chino, CA, construction worker survived a bullet wound to the head after a masked gunman slipped into a closed check-cashing store under renovation and shot the man. The shooter, who reportedly spoke to the victim before shooting him, got away. A twist: The worker was installing security bars.
However, jobsite violence doesn’t always involve strangers.
A Charleston, SC, construction worker who was renovating a Belk department store stabbed a co-worker in the chest during an argument on Aug. 13. The victim died from his injuries, and his co-worker was charged with murder. And in a crime that stunned even the Charleston police a month later, a 30-year-old construction worker picked up his 19-year-old colleague and threw him over a bridge and into a river after their truck broke down on the way to pick up some pipes for a utility construction job. When the victim survived the 35-foot fall, his co-worker jumped into the river and chased him, apparently to harm him further. The victim, who survived, was fished out of the water by a boater.
A few weeks earlier, an angry crew member stormed off of a Brooklyn, NY, job site after an argument with a co-worker and returned with a gun. He fired three shots, but missed his target, police said. Similarly, an Austin, TX, man who had been fired from a construction project in late April 2014 showed up later with a gun and demanded money from the foreman. When the supervisor, who also had a gun, refused, the gunman shot him in the leg, and the boss returned fire, hitting the suspect in the stomach.
What to do?
Government regulators have lots of specific advice and requirements for preventing accidental deaths at industry workplaces, but no direct words of wisdom for violent crime on construction sites. And it’s difficult to prevent random, violent acts because it’s not entirely possible to predict when a stranger will appear with a gun or a co-worker will snap.
Circle Safety & Health Consultants in Richmond, VA, advises contractors create emergency plans—and teach them to their crews—for dealing with an on-site shooter. Consultants there also suggest creating and enforcing a worksite culture that is free of drugs, weapons, and violence.
Supervisors and employers should know to whom they should report threats of violence, harassment, and bullying, and should be authorized—and expected—to call the police when a violent situation arises, the consultants say.
The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has a website with resources for employers to use in their efforts to prevent workplace violence and deal with it when it happens.
While the site is not directed at the construction industry specifically, the advice OSHA offers there might apply. In general, the government endorses the practice of assessing every workplace to identify risks and incorporating violence prevention training into illness and injury prevention programs, employee handbooks, and manuals of standard operating procedures.