OSHA Cites Mont. Contractor in Fatal Accident

May 17, 2005

The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited FWS Design-Builders, a Canadian-based company, for unsafe working conditions following a fatal accident at a malting plant under construction near Great Falls, Mont. Proposed penalties total $130,000.

Two workers fell more than 130 feet and were killed Nov. 22, 2004, when a working deck they were standing on collapsed and fell into a silo. A third employee on the deck pulled himself to safety uninjured by grabbing a metal rod attached to the silo wall as the deck fell away beneath him.

“This accident could have been avoided by adherence to recognized safe work practices and OSHA regulations,” said David DiTommaso, OSHA area director in Billings. OSHA cited FWS for two alleged willful violations, with proposed penalties of $125,000, for failing to provide adequate support for the work deck and knowingly failing to provide a mid-rail and falling object protection. Penalties of $5,000 were also proposed for two alleged serious training violations.

Prior to the accident, FWS had constructed 50 cylinder shaped concrete grain silos using a process known as slip forming where concrete is continuously poured into wooden formwork to make the silo walls.

As the concrete cures, the formwork and work deck it supports are raised by jacks until they reach the desired height of about 137 feet. Workers then position angle iron supports, or clips, under the formwork. The jacks are removed and the clips bear the weight of the formwork and work deck. The accident occurred as employees were removing the jacks, and the weight of the formwork and work deck was being transferred to the clips.

OSHA’s investigation reportedly concluded that the formwork was improperly braced because the clips were poorly spaced on the silo wall and could not support the transfer of weight when the jacks were removed. FWS did not use an engineer to design the clip system and the placement of the clips was irregular, poorly supervised and done by untrained employees. There were no written procedures for dismantling the formwork or installation of the clips.

“FWS-Design Builders’ failure to provide proper bracing was highlighted by a near miss a few days before the tragic collapse,” said DiTommaso. “At that time a different work deck slipped downward, but did not collapse, because of insufficient clip support. It was a wake-up call that went unheeded by the company,” he noted.

FWS Design-Builders has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to request an informal conference with the OSHA area director or to contest them before an independent review commission.

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