Faulty wiring in a control panel is blamed for allowing a cable used to lift a support leg on the horizontal crane to snap. The falling leg missed three workers on the I-280 bridge project.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday announced a new citation against the company building the I-280 bridge over the Maumee River for Oct. 23 safety violations associated with the project's cranes.
The federal citation, which seeks a $70,000 fine, accuses Fru-Con Construction Corp. of Ballwin, Mo., of failing to repair or replace defective parts in the crane.
In Oct. 23 incident, a winch cable snapped, causing a support leg to fall onto a catwalk below.
The $70,000 fine is the maximum OSHA could assess for the incident, and the "willful" violation represents the most serious type on the agency's scale, said Jule Jones, head of the Toledo OSHA office.
OSHA proposed a $280,000 fine against Fru-Con in July for its alleged responsibility in the Feb. 16, 2004, crane collapse that killed four construction workers and injured four others.
In that case, federal investigators said the contractor failed to ensure that the crane was properly anchored during a repositioning process called launching.
While three men were nearby, no one was hurt in the October incident, which involved the miswiring of the control device for the winch cable used to raise or lower the crane leg.
OSHA's citation said the failure exposed employees to being struck and crushed by the falling leg.
OSHA yesterday also announced a $1,500 fine for a less severe citation involving stairways at the Front Street casting yard where segments for the $220 million bridge are made.
During a Jan. 10 visit, inspectors found a stairway at the facility to be exceedingly steep, had irregular distances between steps, and inadequate railings.
All of the stairway violations were corrected during the inspection, the report said.
In a statement issued through its St. Louis public relations firm, Fru-Con said it intends to appeal both OSHA citations.
The contractor argued that the designation of the stairway problems as a "serious" violation was inappropriate.
And, as it did days after the Oct. 23 incident, Fru-Con blamed the support-leg incident on an alleged design defect in the crane's control system.
"The individuals operating the equipment reasonably expected that the winch could not be capable of breaking the cable even if there were problems with the [control] switch," the Fru-Con statement said.
"There is no basis for issuing a willful [violation], and we are very disappointed that OSHA would make such an allegation under the facts and circumstances even as alleged by OSHA," the statement continued.
"It should have had a cut-out device, so that the winch could just pull and pull and pull until the cable broke," Steve Houston, a spokesman from Casey Communications, said yesterday.
The citation gave Fru-Con until April 26 to correct the control-box problem.
But immediately after the October incident, ODOT officials ordered the contractor to remove the crane from the project.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has since agreed to allow Fru-Con to resume using the crane, but only after removing the self-launching system that was in operation during both accidents.
Fru-Con has 15 days to file its formal appeal of the new citations.
The contractor is contesting OSHA's findings and fine from the deadly crane collapse, and in December it filed a federal lawsuit against the Italian manufacturer of the twin 2-million-pound cranes, Paolo de Nicola, blaming it for the disaster.
On Oct. 25, the contractor sent a memorandum to Paolo de Nicola blaming the October mishap on the crane maker, but the Italian manufacturer responded that it was not to blame for the faulty re-wiring done by either Fru-Con or a contractor consultant, Wiss Janney.
Fru-Con's memo stated that the plunging crane leg nearly struck three workers standing on a pier onto which the crane was being positioned when the incident occurred.
OSHA's Ms. Jones said she could not comment further on the agency citations.
Asked if the Oct. 23 incident had been a potential tragedy, she said: "It's always fortunate when injuries are prevented."
Joe Rutherford, an ODOT spokesman, said the state had no comment on the OSHA charges against its contractor.
"We continue to work with OSHA and the unions and Fru-Con to try to maximize safety on the construction site," Mr. Rutherford said.
Joe Blaze, the business manager for Ironworkers Local 55, could not be reached for comment.
The men killed in the crane collapse were all members of Local 55, as were two of the four who were hurt.
Along with the federal proceedings, city and county officials are continuing a criminal investigation of the fatal collapse.
OSHA officials have said that they have discussed that accident with federal prosecutors, too. Construction of the bridge's main spans has been on hold since the collapse.
The Oct. 23 incident occurred as Fru-Con was attempting to resume work using the collapsed crane's twin, which had been modified to improve its stability following the collapse.
Main construction on the $220 million project is expected to resume in June.
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