2 companies fined in crane collapse

Source: http://www.seattlepi.com, May 11, 2007
By: Andrea James

The state Department of Labor & Industries on Friday fined two companies a total of $14,800 for alleged violations that resulted in a deadly tower crane collapse in Bellevue.

A six-month investigation into the accident confirms preliminary reports that the crane’s poorly designed foundation, which was made of steel rather than concrete, was the primary cause of the November collapse. L&I’s report said that the foundation should have been able to withstand far greater pressures.

The Seattle engineering firm that designed the foundation, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, must pay $5,600 in fines because the base did not meet manufacturer requirements, the report said.

The firm challenged the findings.

“The Department of Labor & Industries made several factual errors in its investigation and L&I refused to discuss these facts despite MKA’s repeated attempts to do so,” Chief Executive Jon Magnusson said in an e-mail to the Seattle P-I. “MKA will immediately file an appeal.”

It is common for businesses to appeal L&I’s findings, spokeswoman Elaine Fischer said. The penalties are proposals that do not become final until the appeal process is over.

“We’re not surprised that they’re going to appeal,” she said.

Lease Crutcher Lewis, the general contractor at the Tower 333 site where the crane fell, was fined $9,200 for not ensuring the crane was maintained and used properly, not inspecting the tower and for hanging two large banners on it that could affect the crane’s operations.

Neither operator error nor strong winds were a factor in the collapse, the L&I report said. The general contractor’s failure to maintain and inspect the crane properly made the problem worse, said Steve Cant, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Bill Lewis, of Lease Crutcher Lewis, said he saw the state report Friday afternoon and needs to study it more before deciding if he’ll appeal. Construction on the Bellevue office tower has been slightly delayed and he said it should be finished by the end of the year.

Orange-and-white construction cranes are popping up all over Western Washington, including Bellevue, which is in the middle of a growth spurt. The tower crane collapse and subsequent crane problems spurred the state to pass a strict crane-safety law earlier this year. The new law mandates crane inspections and increases state oversight of the structures.

The law also requires that an independent professional engineer stamp approval on any “non-standard” tower crane base.

A new crane sits at the Tower 333 site, this time installed in a concrete base. On Nov. 16, the night of the crane collapse, crane operator Warren Yeakey, who passed a drug and alcohol test, was swinging the crane clockwise when he said he saw the end of the crane boom start to rise. He felt the crane sway and tilt, according to the state’s investigation report.

Yeakey rode the crane down 217 feet to the ground and was unhurt except for minor cuts on his right hand. Yeakey and the crane’s other operator both said that while operating the crane, “they experienced an up-and-down movement, similar to riding a horse,” the L&I report said.

The crane fell toward the south end of the downtown construction site, striking and heavily damaging three neighboring buildings and causing millions of dollars in damage. The falling crane killed a Microsoft lawyer, Matthew Ammon, who was a tenant in one of the buildings.

“There is little comfort in knowing what caused the tragedy that killed our only child, Matt,” Ammon’s mother, Kathleen Gaberson, said in a statement issued by her lawyer. “The report shows that his death could easily have been prevented. This needless tragedy has devastated our family.”

The penalty amounts are based on a structure set by law, Fischer said. If L&I had found the same violations and the crane hadn’t fallen, the penalty amounts would have been the same.

The department is considering revising its penalty structure, she said.

“No amount of penalty could ever represent the life of an individual,” Fischer said. “The penalties in no way reflect the loss of life or the damage that was caused.”

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