Five Companies Fined Following Fatal Wall Collapse

Back in August, Occupationalhazards.com reported that a lunch hour turned deadly for three construction workers who were killed by the collapse of a wall Home Depot store under construction in Greensboro, N.C.

This week, the N.C. Department of Labor fined five companies after an investigation into the August 5 incident, in which an 80,000-pound section of a wall toppled at the Home Depot construction site. Fines ranging from $5,600 to $12,600 were issued to Professional Service Industries, Steel Performance, Carolina Steel & Stone, Perry Construction Group and Carolina Tiltup Construction.

Nine construction workers were sitting near the wall to eat their lunches when it fell over, crushing Larry Michael Thompson, Rickey Charles Smutko and Juan Almarguer. Six other workers escaped the crumbling of the 30-by-30 foot section of the wall injury-free or with only minor injuries.

North Carolina occupational safety and health officials said they hope that the fines will raise awareness about a building technique called "tilt-up construction," in which walls are grouted and temporarily braced until they are attached to the roof by welds. Subcontractor employees at the Home Depot site had removed the braces before the welds were completed.

"What you had then was a wall sitting on a small fulcrum," said John Johnson, deputy commissioner for the N.C. Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "It was easy to knock over."

Johnson said the state is "very concerned" that construction companies are doing tilt-up construction under the same circumstances. As for the companies fined this week, he added, "We have to remember that none of these companies were new to the business."

Professional Service Industries, an inspection company headquartered in Illinois, received the greatest fine, $12,600, for failing to ensure all of the welds were complete. They were also cited for failure to properly train their inspector at the job site. Investigators found he was not inspecting every weld, as required by the building code. As a result, as many as 18 welds the inspector reported as being sound did not exist.

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