South Dakota Firm Said to Have Ignored Safety Rules Before Building Collapse

May 4, 2017

The construction company that was remodeling a historic downtown Sioux Falls, S.D., building when it collapsed and killed a worker willfully ignored precautions, federal workplace safety officials allege.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday issued two new citations against Hultgren Construction. The company was renovating the former Copper Lounge building Dec. 2 when it collapsed, killing a construction worker and trapping an apartment resident under the rubble for hours.

The citations allege the company told employees to remove two load-bearing walls but did not provide instruction on how to install a temporary support system. The investigation found the company also failed to conduct an engineering survey before beginning the demolition work.

OSHA is proposing penalties of $101,400 for the new citations. That follows more than two dozen other citations and a $100,000 penalty issued against Hultgren Construction last week related to the construction site. A temporary labor company, Command Center, was also fined $114,000 last week and intends to contest its citations.

Hultgren Construction president Aaron Hultgren told the Argus Leader in an email Monday that his company has received the citations but declined comment.

“Each step we take is with the utmost gravity and respect for everyone concerned,” Hultgren wrote. “We at Hultgren Construction remain committed to working through the process with OSHA and all other concerned parties.”

An attorney representing the family of Ethan McMahon, the 24-year-old worker killed in the collapse, said OSHA’s findings confirm the family’s belief that the collapse was avoidable.

“The OSHA citations issued today confirm that this tragedy was entirely preventable and should have never happened,” attorney Vince Roche wrote.

The citation report was also being reviewed by an attorney for the family of Emily Fodness, the 22-year-old woman who was trapped in the rubble until firefighters rescued her.

Hultgren Construction has 15 days to contest the citations.

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