City of Charleston and S.C. OSHA Reach Settlement After Fatal Fire

After the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Office of Occupational Safety and Health (S.C. OSHA) levied heavy fines against the city of Charleston Fire Department for the deadly June 18 blaze at a Sofa Super Store that killed nine firefighters, the city's mayor announced that a settlement reached with OSHA would reduce the fines to less than half.

According to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Charleston initially was required to pay fines totaling $9,325 for four violations related to the fire. After the settlement, the city will now pay $3,160 in fines.

OSHA originally cited the city for not having a written policy on fighting fires in buildings with metal truss roofs. That citation was vacated as a result of the agreement. The city found that OSHA did not maintain regulations for metal truss roofs, and that no other fire departments in South Carolina had written policies on the issue.

In addition, the city took issue with the “willful citation” that claimed the city did not have an effective written incident command system on the night of the fire. According to Charleston officials, the city had been acting on recommendations by a Fire Review Team to strengthen “policies, procedures and training on incident command” before the incident. The citation was reduced to “unclassified” status.

Furthermore, the city challenged OSHA's claim that the nine firefighters who perished were not wearing protective gear or breathing apparatuses. The agency later acknowledged in the settlement that “at least three” firemen — not including any of the nine who died — lacked protective gear and breathing apparatuses.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) union, called the settlement a “travesty” and questioned how OSHA reached the agreement.

“Despite the formal, written request of the firefighters union to South Carolina OSHA, and the mayor's promise during the October release of the fire safety consultant report to involve employees in addressing the department's problems, not one of our members was asked to participate in this settlement process and it remains a complete mystery as to how OSHA arrived at this settlement, especially as it relates to items that they incorrectly assume are being fixed,” Schaitberger said.

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