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OSHA: Wrong Floor Design Leads to Death

Friday, March 11, 2016

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Federal authorities say the life of the 54-year-old general contractor could have been spared had new engineering plans for a concrete floor been obtained.

Instead, Gary Berthelot was fatally injured in a floor collapse Sept. 8, 2015, at a restaurant rebuilding project in Kiln, MS.

The father of four had 30 years of construction experience and was the project’s general contractor.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Berthelot Design Systems and its subcontractor, Great Southern Building Systems LLC, d/b/a Bayou Steel Fabricators Inc., for a variety of violations and imposed almost $80,000 in penalties.

The project involved reconstruction of a popular seafood and steak restaurant, Jourdan River Steamer, which had been damaged during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

Collapse and Investigation

According to the federal agency, Berthelot and three workers employed by Great Southern Building Systems were placing additional supports beneath the freshly poured concrete form when it collapsed.

Falling concrete and debris buried Berthelot, while the other workers escaped the collapsing floor. Emergency responders pulled the contractor’s body from beneath the rubble.

An investigation later found the project's original flooring plans called for a wood floor, but the contractors failed to obtain new engineering plans for a concrete floor and used designs that could not support the weight of the concrete—resulting in the collapse.

Willful, Serious Citations

The agency issued citations to Great Southern Building Systems on March 2, for one willful and two serious alleged safety violations. OSHA said it waived the citations and penalties against Berthelot, as he was the company's only employee.

Willful violations are OSHA's highest level of infraction, reserved for the most flagrant indifference to worker health and safety.

"Great Southern Building Systems LLC failed in its responsibility to protect its employees, despite being warned that the floor was unstable," said Eugene Stewart, director of OSHA's Jackson Area Office. "This tragedy could have been prevented had the employer obtained new engineering plans and followed the requirements."

OSHA issued one willful citation for exposing workers to being struck by material, because the concrete formwork was not built to handle the load on it.

Great Southern Building Systems also received serious citations for not installing formwork to support the concrete floor as it was poured and not having engineering plans for the concrete floor onsite, according to OSHA.

Proposed penalties total $79,800, according to the citation documents.

OSHA Record

Based in Slidell, LA, Great Southern Building Systems has 15 days to respond to the citations.

According to OSHA’s database this is the second recent case against the company. It was fined $2,960 in 2012 for serious workplace safety hazards. The database also indicates that those fines have been referred to debt collection.

The company could not be reached for comment.

Berthelot Design Systems had no previous record with OSHA.


Tagged categories: Citations; Commercial Construction; Fatalities; Floors; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; Rebuilding; Renovation; Subcontractors

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