Monday, April 03, 2006

Falling Scaffold Kills Three -- Cheap Workers or Expensive Bystanders?

Why can we send men to the moon and target missles through windows hundreds of miles away, but we can't build a damn scaffold without killing a bunch of people?

Three dead in Boston scaffolding collapse

BOSTON --A 20,000-pound construction platform collapsed and then crashed down 13 stories onto a busy downtown street Monday, killing three people and crushing cars stalled in midday traffic.

The collapse occurred about 1:20 p.m. on Boylston Street, which runs along the south side of Boston Common.

Witnesses said there was a terrifying rumble then crash of the platform lift system, which was set up atop a second building next to a 14-story building owned by Emerson College. The platform and scaffolding, which had been used to install a stone facade, were being dismantled around the 13th story when the collapse happened, said acting Fire Commissioner Kevin MacCurtain.

Boston police identified the dead as the driver of the car, Michael Tsan Ty, 28, of Boston's Roslindale neighborhood; and two construction workers, Robert E. Beane, 41, of Baldwinville; and Romildo Silva, 27, of Somerville.


John D. Macomber, president and CEO of Macomber Builders, the lead contractor hired by Emerson, said at a news conference the dead were believed to be two construction workers employed by subcontractor Bostonian Masonry and a passer-by.

He said the company was still investigating the accident.

"It looks as though one of the moving, movable scaffoldings fell off the side of the building out toward Boylston Street and down. We don't know why that happened yet. They're tied in laterally very well," Macomber said.

He said the procedure was a "typically very safe way to work" and that there was an "extensive safety program inside the company."

Macomber Builders has been cited by OSHA more than 10 times since 2004 including more than five citations for "serious" scaffolding or fall protection violations. OSHA defines a violation as serious if "there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard."

"Generally OSHA is very pleased with us and the other leading contractors in Boston," Macomber said at the news conference. "We try very carefully to keep safe jobs. Typically we're held up as a model of safety."

He did not comment directly on any of the company's previous violations.

Ah, that admirable American optimism: "Generally OSHA is very pleased with us...We're held up as a model of safety." But hey, anyone can screw up now and then, even "models of safety" with "extensive safety programs."

Anyway, the company is undoubtedly relieved that all of the dead weren't innocent bystanders. Bystanders are much too expensive to kill. A Chicago company that accidentally dropped a scaffold off the Hancock Building in 2002, killing four pedestrians, was sued by the families and settled for $77 million.

On the other hand, Lynn Masonry, a Michigan firm, was fined only $2380 for killing David Scott who fell off a scaffold at a Target store in 2004. Then there was the W.E. O'Neil Construction Co. that was fined $18,000 after scaffolding collapsed in Evanston, IL last fall, killing a worker. Oh, and then there was Liberty Contractors in New Jersey, fined a whopping $4,000 when a worker fell to his death off a scaffold in 2004.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.