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'Preventable tragedy,' says OSHA

Julie Copeland

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Continuing our series of tragedies that could have been prevented, I call attention to anOSHA fines totales $397,000 following this tragedy in Philadelphia, PA in 2013. event that happened not too far from our Philadelphia headquarters.

If you recall, a building collapse in June of 2013 made national news as it was a disaster with deadly consequences. A vacant building being demolished collapsed onto a thrift store in Philadelphia, killing six people and trapping more than a dozen under rubble. Over the course of that day, some people were pulled from the rubble. Six lives were lost because of a series of errors in this very preventable tragedy.

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer in November of last year, two Philadelphia contractors' "deliberate neglect" of basic demolition safety rules resulted in the Center City building collapse that killed six people in June, federal workplace regulators said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced fines totaling $397,000 against the two companies.

"Campbell Construction and S&R Contracting sacrificed worker and public safety through the deliberate neglect of demolition safety fundamentals. This tragic incident could and should have been prevented," said David Michaels, assistant U.S. secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "We should not be here today."

Michaels also said the agency had begun discussions with the Justice Department about possible prosecutions, on top of a local grand-jury investigation that the District Attorney's Office initiated in June.

OSHA set penalties of $313,000 for Campbell and $84,000 for S&R. The companies have 15 business days to accept the findings and penalties or contest them before an independent federal panel.

A lawyer for Campbell, William Hobson, called OSHA's investigation "one-sided" and vowed to contest the findings. Daine A. Grey Jr., the lawyer for S&R owner Sean Benschop, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Michaels, announcing OSHA's findings Thursday in a conference call with reporters, said he realized the fines would provide "little comfort" to the collapse's victims and their families, but hoped the action would "send a message to employers in Philadelphia and elsewhere that cutting corners in safety will be punished."

Campbell's owner is Griffin Campbell, whose firm was hired to demolish a four-story building at 2136 Market St. owned by STB Investment Corp., controlled by real estate investor and would-be developer Richard Basciano. Campbell engaged Benschop to operate an excavator at the site.

On June 5, after most of the flooring inside the structure had been removed, a brick wall on the west side of the building collapsed onto an adjacent Salvation Army thrift shop, which had remained open during the demolition project. Six people inside the shop were killed and 14 others, including Benschop, were injured.

OSHA levied the maximum fine possible against the Campbell firm - $70,000 - for each of what regulators determined were three "willful violations" of basic safety requirements: failing to prepare an engineering study for the demolition project; disobeying a rule requiring higher stories to be removed before demolition begins on lower floors; and removing lateral bracing, provided by the floors, to support walls more than one story high.

Removal of lateral bracing is a safety breach so "egregious," OSHA regulators said, that the penalty was levied twice, for violations on two separate days.

Additional citations for hard-hat violations, inadequate fall protection, and stair inspections pushed Campbell's total fines to $313,000.

S&R was fined $84,000 for one "willful" violation of lateral bracing requirements, and two "serious" violations related to training and failure to protect employees from falls.

Campbell's attorney, Hobson, said, "We absolutely deny any and all of these violations." He said Campbell and Benschop had been unable to cooperate with the OSHA probe because of the need to protect their rights in the district attorney's grand-jury probe.

The tragedies I’ve described in this blog over the last few weeks, including this one in Philadelphia, did not have to happen. They happened for a number of reasons – companies/workers cutting corners, lack of education/training, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and more.

If your workers need safety training or PPE, Arbill is here to help. If your company would like to lower the number of incidents and improve their bottom line, we can introduce a culture of safety that will lead to increased production and profitability. Visit www.arbill.com to learn more or call us to talk about your specific needs.

These stories that describe loss of life are tragic for all involved. Our mission is to keep workers safe every day. We’ll continue to use this blog  to shed light on the tragedies and the advancements in safety that will prevent tragedies. Share these stories with your workers so they have a greater awareness.

Have a safe day!

Topics: Arbill, safety training, protect workers on the job, safe work environment, PPE, OSHA, safety compliance, work place fatalities

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