OSHA Releases Truss Collapse Report

Editor's Note: this story was first posted on WTOL.COM on July 30, 2004.

TOLEDO (AP) -- A company building an interstate highway bridge failed to properly secure a 1,000-ton crane that collapsed and killed four workers in February, federal safety investigators said Friday.

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials announced $280,000 in fines, the maximum allowed, against the bridge's primary contractor, Fru-Con Construction Corp., saying it violated four workplace safety standards. Those violations included failing to comply with the manufacturer's instructions for the safe operation of cranes. OSHA termed the violations as "willful," meaning that the company knew of the problem and did nothing to correct it, said Jule Jones, the agency's director for northwest Ohio. "Fru-Con could have and should have known that these anchorings were necessary," Jones said.

Dave Herron, Fru-Con's project director, disputed the findings, saying the company secured the crane under the supervision of the crane's manufacturer. "We believed it was set up properly," Herron said.

The crane's maker, Paolo de Nicola, an Italian company, custom built the two matching 315-foot long cranes for the bridge project. A message seeking comment was left at the company's office, which was closed Friday afternoon.

OSHA's investigation said St. Louis-based Fru-Con did not sufficiently anchor the crane to the concrete piers and failed to use the needed anchoring bars for the back legs of the crane. The anchorings were needed to counterbalance the crane when it moved forward to position itself for putting sections of the roadway into place, Jones said. Neither of the two cranes piecing the highway together was properly anchored, Jones said.

Fru-Con has 15 days to pay the fine or appeal. Herron said no decision has been made. The Lucas County prosecutor's office is reviewing the OSHA report to determine if charges should be filed.

The crane that collapsed Feb. 16 was putting together the roadway on a new Interstate 280 bridge. The crane, which stretches above the bridge's pillars and lifts concrete sections of the roadway into place, was moving forward. Workers were standing on the pillars and about to set the crane into place when it came crashing down. Nearly all of the crane fell between the highway lanes, narrowly missing passing traffic and landing on two construction trucks. All of those killed were ironworkers working above the ground.

Joe Blaze, business manager of Ironworkers Local 55 in Toledo, said he was appalled and upset by the findings of the investigation, but he stopped short of placing blame. "We need to find out the truth," he said. "Our guys aren't going to get up there unless they feel 100 percent safe."

While work has stopped on the section of the bridge where the crane collapsed, work on the rest of the project has been moving forward. "We feel they can continue safely with the project," said Richard Martinko, assistant director for the Ohio Department of Transportation.  The accident will delay completion of the bridge by more than a year.

Fru-Con won the contract to build the bridge after submitting the lowest of four bids. It was the company's first project working with the state transportation department.

Updated Friday, July 30, 2004 at 6:10 p.m.