The deadly collapse of a parking garage under construction at the Tropicana Casino and Resort was blamed Thursday on contractors and inspectors who failed to properly secure the floor to the walls and provide adequate shoring for the concrete columns.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued citations against four contractors for their role in the collapse of five floors of the garage on Oct. 30, leaving four workers dead and 21 injured.
“Connecting horizontal steel to the vertical (components) is a basic construction engineering design, very basic. It’s Engineering 101,” said Gary Roskoski, OSHA area director.
“This was a death trap and an accident waiting to happen,” said Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Philadelphia, one of the attorneys representing victims’ families, after attending a briefing on the findings.
OSHA fined the companies $119,500 for a total of nine violations, with the largest levy – $98,500 – against Fabi Construction Co. of Egg Harbor Township.
Also cited were Keating Building Corp., the general contractor from Philadelphia; Mitchell Bar Placement Inc. of Sewell and SITE-Blauvelt Engineers of Mount Laurel. The companies will contest the charges.
Inadequate shoring support for the concrete columns and incorrect installation of reinforcing steel, known as rebar, were the primary causes of the collapse, OSHA said. Shoring is a component designed to hold up the concrete after it’s poured to prevent collapse until cured enough. Investigators ruled out failure to let the concrete dry sufficiently and design changes to accelerate the pace and reduce the costs as causes for the accident.
The concrete strength had no bearing on the collapse,” Roskoski said. “Neither did the revised construction design. Every large job goes through what is called value engineering to save money and time. The floors were completed every seven to 10 days, which is not a fast rate.”
Killed in the collapse were Michael Wittland, 53, of Pleasantville; James Bigelow, 29, of Egg Harbor Township; Scott N. Pietrosante, 21 , of Milmay; all members of the Ironworkers Local, and Robert A. Tartaglio, 42, of Galloway Township.
In most of the violations, OSHA issued the maximum fine under federal law, but its authority is limited. “The public perceives this as a slap on the wrist, that OSHA is a toothless tiger,” Mongeluzzi said.
OSHA has no jurisdiction over Atlantic City inspectors, or over the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. But the legal team expects to add both to the list of agencies named in lawsuits.
The DCA is also reviewing the accident. “We want to make sure the process is in compliance with the Uniform Construction Code. If there were violations, we will take the appropriate action,” said E.J. Miranda, a spokesman for the agency.
The most negligent violation carried a $70,000 fine against Fabi for what OSHA called intentional and willful disregard of safety practices. It is the one action that could lead to criminal charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Since 1973, OSHA has sent 162 cases to the Justice Department, which prosecuted 53. Criminal action requires violation of OSHA standards, willful intent and a fatality, said Kate Dugan, a spokeswoman for the agency. Proving such neglect is difficult, Dugan said. But history and past violations are taken into account.
Both Fabi and Keating were cited in the past for construction accidents in Atlantic City.
In 2002, OSHA fined Keating and Fabi almost $9,000 after three workers were injured in a fall while installing a prefabricated concrete panel on another Tropicana construction job. The agency also cited Fabi in the 1995 death of Frank Caucci on a Tropicana project. The violations carried a fine of $105,000, which was reduced on appeal to $31,500.
In last year’s garage collapse, the horizontal floors were not tied to the vertical columns with steel in the upper five floors, Roskoski said. The steel mesh just butted against the columns in places, so it was never properly secured.
Mitch D’Amico, business manager for Mitchell Bar, said his firm followed plans and specifications. “I disagree the rebar was not connected properly. Our work was rigorously inspected by the city of Atlantic City and SITE-Blauvelt. Not one drop of concrete was poured until the work was inspected and deemed OK.”
SITE-Blauvelt was cited for its lack of inspection oversight, a charge also denied by the company.
‘We feel these charges are unfounded, and we will take all appropriate actions to contest it,” said David Sell, vice president of human resources.
Fabi Construction issued a statement expressing sympathy for those killed and hurt in the collapse. The company said it would continue to cooperate with OSHA in the investigation.
The lawyers have yet to take depositions or go over OSHA records. ‘We don’t know if the steel company got the right plans. We don’t want to judge them based on a lack of information,” Mongeluzzi said.
Atlantic City inspectors gave the go-ahead to pour the concrete even though the shoring was deficient and the connections missing in many instances, the report said. The lower levels of the garage were adequate, Roskoski said.
Workers also reported cracks in the concrete columns at a 45 degree angle. The reports were ignored, according to OSHA.
“That should have raised a red flag ,” Roskoski said. D’Amato also said it was too early to decide what, if any, role the Tropicana played in these actions.
The inspection is still under way and OSHA will monitor the site for the balance of the construction, Dugan said.
The four companies continue to work on the project. KEY POINTS
- The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration report cited the following:
- Contractors did not provide a shoring plan as required by law.
- Shoring was installed improperly.
- Shoring was removed prematurely.
- Inspections were inadequate before pouring the concrete.
- Steel reinforcements failed to connect the floors to the vertical walls.
- Complaints about cracks in the concrete were ignored.
- Site-Blauvelt, the independent engineers hired to oversee on-site inspections, failed to correct the errors and used inadequately trained inspectors.
The cited companies have 15 days to pay the fine, request an informal conference with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or formally contest the fines, which means litigation. The companies expect to contest.
Lawyers for the families of the four workers who died and those injured will file a master complaint to consolidate all the cases in the next several weeks. Then, the litigation can get underway.
A monument to the fallen construction workers will be unveiled today at Kennedy Plaza and the Boardwalk.