Sunday, April 25, 2004

Another Day, Another Dollar, Another 4 Dead Workers

Atlantic City Garage Collapse Blamed on Changes to "Speed the Job and Save Money"

The New York Times reports that the garage collapse that killed four construction workers and injured 20 others last October
was caused by the faulty installation of concrete floors after changes were made to the design to speed the job and save money, according to engineers for the contractors and others who have studied the design plans and the debris.
It is apparently still unclear whether it was the revised design or the way that design was executed that was to blame. One thing that is clear, however, is that the laborers and carpenters on the sight knew that something was wrong.
"Everywhere along the line, the checks and balances failed," said an engineer for one of the contractors, who asked that he not be named because of the ongoing investigation.

The laborers and carpenters at the site, in interviews, said they did raise objections about a condition they thought was hazardous: the insufficient shoring that was being used to hold up the not-yet-dry concrete floors. Workers said they noticed that some of the shores - essentially temporary steel or wooden pogo sticks that go from the ceiling to the floor - were under such stress that they were bending or bowing. Laborers also reported troublesome-looking cracks in the concrete. But George Tolson, one of the Fabi laborers who noticed this condition, said he was told to keep working.

"All they wanted," said David R. Hand, 33, a laborer for Fabi who was pouring the concrete "is to go faster, faster, faster. Time is money. That was it."

The Atlantic County prosecutor has confirmed that criminal inquiry was underway.
"Someone should be held criminally responsible," said Robert A. Tartaglio Sr., who worked on the Tropicana expansion last year with his son, Robert Jr. - one of the four men killed in the collapse. "Someone is responsible up the line for making these decisions. And as far as I am concerned, they committed a crime."
Repeat Violator
And this wasn't the first time that the companies involved in the collapse had had serious safety problems.
In June 1995, a 23-year-old Fabi worker who was removing concrete slabs atop Tropicana's adjacent 10-story parking garage fell 100 feet to his death, down an elevator shaft, after the floor he was standing on collapsed. Fabi was fined $31,500 by the federal government and Keating was fined $6,400, after authorities concluded that the workers had not been properly trained or supervised.

Then, in October 2002, after work on the new expansion got under way, three workers were injured when the concrete floor they were standing on gave way and they fell to the ground. In this case, according to one contractor, there was no shoring at all underneath the area where the men were working. Keating was in this case fined $1,125 and Fabi $8,375, although the penalties are being appealed.

Jim Moran, director of the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, a union-backed group representing about 100,000 workers, said all workplace deaths were horrendous. "But it is even more egregious,'' he said, "when it is a repeat offender. If you are going to keep fining people for killing other people, on its face, that is ridiculous."