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OSHA Fines Companies for Collapse That Killed 1

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied $200,000 worth of fines Monday in relation to a December 2016 building collapse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that left a person trapped for three hours and a construction worker dead.

Hultgren Construction, which was remodeling the building, was fined nearly $100,000. A temporary labor agency that provided workers for the project, Command Center, was also fined more than $114,000. Both establishments received around a dozen citations, totaling 28 incidents in all.

What Happened

Around 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 2 construction workers were working on a load-bearing wall when the building collapsed. Emily Fodness, a 22-year-old woman who was in the residence upstairs, was trapped in the rubble for hours, but was brought out by rescue crews around 1:30 p.m.

The search for a second person, a construction worker, lasted until nearly 6 p.m. when crews recovered the man’s body. He was identified as 24-year-old Ethan McMahon.

The renovation project had required the removal of a nearly 90-foot-long, 38-inch-thick wall.

While the city had granted the company a limited permit for interior demolition work, they had not been issued a permit for work that extensive, said Ron Bell, the city’s chief building officer.

“If they thought that they were going to take 70, 80 feet of wall out without structural support, they were crazy,” Bell told the Argus Leader.

The project engineer, Justin Christensen of Rise Structural Associates, was reportedly in the process of designing a support system so that crews could safely replace the wall. He was unaware that the work had already started.

"We were neither involved, nor consulted, during the demolition of the existing wall or design of the temporary shoring for the existing wall,” Christensen had said.

Business Background

While Hultgren Construction does not have a record of previous violations with OSHA, other industry professionals had reportedly filed complaints about the company.

Michael Bender, a Sioux Falls developer who owns the building next to a previous Hultrgen project, said that he repeatedly complained about that work, citing “lack of normal protocol.”

The owner of Hultgran Construction, Aaron Hultgren, had been open about his lack of training in architecture and engineering at a community presentation in October. His background is reportedly in real estate, rental properties and mortgage origination, according to the Leader.

The other company involved, temp agency Command Center, has over two dozen cases listed on OSHA’s website and, in regard to the Dec. 2 accident, was cited for violations such as failing to initiate and maintain a safety program and failing to ensure employees wore proper safety gear such as hardhats, goggles and footwear.

Findings and Reactions

An attorney for Command Center, Brendan Simaytis, said that the company plans to appeal, saying that they had “absolutely nothing to do with the ultimate reason the building collapsed.”

“As a staffing agency, our limited role in this project was to provide workers to work under the direction and supervision of Hultgren Construction,” Simaytis said. “None of the issued citations ascribe any blame to Command Center related to the actual building collapse. We believe the citations and penalties are grossly disproportionate to any activities our employees were involved in at the worksite prior to the collapse."

Hultgren said in an emailed statement to the Leader that the company is still reviewing OSHA’s report.

"We understand and appreciate the important work OSHA undertakes to help ensure safe and healthy working conditions for American workers,” he said. “As part of this ongoing process, we are currently reviewing the documents and will be in contact with OSHA with our response.”

Any resulting appeals are only part of how the case will continue to unfold, however. OSHA is still conducting a separate investigation related to McMahon’s death. Any citations related to that, in particular, are due by June 2.

The fines are reportedly among the top 10 largest fines ever levied in the state.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Fatalities; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; OSHA

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (4/27/2017, 9:02 AM)

The importance of engineering reviews prior to structural modifications coupled with risk assessments before work commences cannot be overemphasized.

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