Contractors Face $691K in Penalties for Collapse That Cost Worker His Legs

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Updated Dec 16, 2022
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Two contractors face proposed combined penalties of $691,000 following a partial building collapse in which a worker lost his legs.

The contractors – Northstar Contracting Group Inc. and general contractor Suffolk Construction – have been issued citations by the U.S. Occupational Safety Administration for the incident May 4, which occurred during a demolition and asbestos-removal project in South Boston.

The companies “failed to ensure adequate demolition and asbestos safeguards for their employees,” OSHA says. The workers exposed to dangers were employed by Northstar, and Suffolk is the general contractor on the project.

"The employers in this case exposed employees to the immediate hazard of structural collapse and the potential long-term consequences of asbestos exposure,” says OSHA Area Director James Mulligan in Braintree, Massachusetts. “These hazards are preventable, and employers can control and eliminate them. Had they ensured proper planning – including engineering surveys and frequent and regular jobsite inspections, effective safety procedures, personal protective equipment and employee training – was in place, this incident and the violations that followed might have been avoided."

Both Northstar and Suffolk are contesting the violations and penalties.

OSHA issues citations

The incident occurred May 4 when a concrete mezzanine platform on a west wall of the former Boston Edison power plant, built in 1898, collapsed. A demolition robot was working on the platform. The platform collapsed on three workers, pinning the legs of one of them for three hours under a pile of debris, according to news reports. Both his legs were amputated. The other two were removed soon after the collapse and were also injured.

Demolition and asbestos debris was being stored on the platform, and the asbestos was not being removed to the on-site asbestos trailers at the end of work shifts, according to the OSHA Northstar citation. Gaylord boxes filled with asbestos waste and demolition debris were left on top of the mezzanine platform for multiple days.

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The citation says workers were not wearing respirators during Class II work when they were cutting through wooden posts covered in asbestos with reciprocating saws.  

The demolition is part of a plan to build 1.7 million square feet of mixed-use development for offices, stores and homes.

After the collapse, Suffolk Construction halted work at all of its work sites in Boston. It said it conducted a safety stand-down to reinforce jobsite safety.

Northstar faces proposed penalties of $399,864 for violations, in which OSHA says the company failed to:

  • Conduct an engineering survey to determine the condition of the mezzanine and framing and floors and walls during demolition to avoid the possibility of collapse.
  • Ensure a designated competent person performed or supervised required duties in the asbestos containment area, such as regular and frequent jobsite inspections, protecting the integrity of the enclosure and setting up and maintaining control of personnel entering the area.
  • Conspicuously post the safe weight load limit on the mezzanine floor where demolition and asbestos debris was being stored.
  • Train employees adequately to recognize and avoid collapse, struck-by and crushing hazards.
  • Ensure employees entering and working in regulated asbestos containment areas wore respirators and did not have facial hair or beards that came between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face and/or interfered with valve function.
  • Remove asbestos containing waste by end of shift.
  • Provide OSHA 300 logs to investigators within four business hours.

Suffolk faces proposed penalties of $292,116 for violations, in which OSHA says the company failed to:

  • Inspect the contractor's work in the asbestos regulated containment area to ensure compliance with all aspects of the asbestos standard.
  • Ensure employees wearing respirators inside regulated asbestos containment areas did not have facial hair that came between the sealing surface of the facepiece and the face and/or interfered with valve function.
  • Have a plan in place to prevent an unplanned collapse of the mezzanine.
  • Conspicuously post the safe weight load limit on the mezzanine floor where demolition and asbestos debris was being stored.
  • Provide frequent and regular inspections inside the asbestos control area of the mezzanine.

As both companies have contested OSHA’s findings, the case now goes to before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.