A distribution center for the Gap stores was destroyed by fire last year on Aug. 29 of last year On Dec. 10, a man operating an excavator as part of the demolition was killed. A 100-foot section of roof truss or joist slid loose and rammed into the excavator, piercing it. Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined his employer for a serious safety violation.
According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, a June OSHA report found that the demolition was progressing in a way that caused structural columns to become overstressed. This put demolition workers and support crew at risk for a sudden structural collapse, which is what did occur.
The day before the accident, according to OSHA, there were four employees of a company called Environmental Remediation Services, Inc., working demolition in the part of the building that later failed. They were performing activities including ground spotting, torch burning and operation of equipment near and on structural steel members of the building, including structural columns and roof trusses.
That work included hinge cuts at the base of the structural columns, which caused them to become overstressed. When a column is cut on three sides, the remaining side is left bearing three times the load. This was beyond the limit for the grade of steel involved.
OSHA considered this to represent a serious safety violation. The agency defines a serious violation as one the employer knew or should have known was likely to result in serious physical harm or death. It fined the company $8,149.
Far more expensive for the company is likely to be the wrongful death suit filed by the deceased man's widow. She is seeking $20 million in compensation for his death. Environmental Remediation Services, Inc., along with the project's general contractor Clayco, Inc., and the Gap are named as defendants.
This accident illustrates how difficult or impossible it is for an individual worker to keep track of all the potentially hazardous activities that are taking place on a worksite. While negligence is not an issue in workers' compensation claims, it's important to remember that you can't "just watch out" in order to avoid a workplace accident.
If you are injured on the job, you are entitled to workers' compensation. If you are concerned your claim is not being fully considered or paid, please reach out to a workers' comp lawyer.