OSHA issued 20 citations for alleged safety violations against three construction companies in a crane collapse that killed three ironworkers at the Milwaukee Brewers ballpark on July 14, 1999.
Regulators said Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America (MHIA), Danny's Construction Co., and Neil F. Lampson Inc., allowed workers to lift a 400-ton piece of the ballpark's retractable roof in windy conditions.
The workers were in a basket hanging from another crane inside the bowl of the stadium when the crane, known as "Big Blue," fell and struck the basket, killing the men.
"We feel that if these companies had been in compliance with our regulations, possibly this tragedy would not have occurred," said George Yoksas, OSHA's Milwaukee office director at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
OSHA recommended fines totaling $539,800 against the three companies.
The company that employed the ironworkers, Danny's Construction Co., was fined $168,000 for failure to keep employees clear of the suspended roof section.
Neil F. Lampson Inc., which leased the 567-foot crane to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was fined $131,300. Mitsubishi was fined $240,000 for allegedly overloading the crane and failing to factor in wind conditions.
Although Yoksas declined to say what the agency thought caused the collapse, he did admit that "wind is a contributing factor" to the accident.
At the time of the accident, the National Weather Service said winds were gusting at up to 26 mph.
Investigators relied on a 78-second videotape taken by OSHA employees who were on the site the same day investigating a previous accident.
The video, released for the first time Wednesday, begins with someone's routine discussion of the project. Suddenly, a 12-second grinding screech is heard, followed by two crashes.
All three companies involved denied allegations of violations.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mitsubishi said it would "vigorously contest the citations claiming MHIA acted willfully in the areas described by OSHA."
"It should be noted, due to the constraints of time, OSHA's investigation did not conclude why Big Blue collapsed," the Mitsubishi statement said.
According to the OSH Act, the agency has six months from the date of the accident, or until this Friday, to issue citations for safety violations related to the accident.
Neil F. Lampson Inc., President Bill Lampson said his company will appeal the citations.
"It's absolutely inappropriate," he said. "We leased the crane to Mitsubishi and we're being cited for violations."
Willie Mizell, president of Danny's Construction, said officials will meet with OSHA before deciding whether to appeal.
The companies charged have 15 days to reply to OSHA's allegations.
Work began on the $400 million Miller Park project in October 1996 with an original target date for completion of April 2000.
Roof piece lifts started on Jan. 8, 1999. The fatal lift was the 10th of about 30 lifts planned.
Since the accident, project officials have obtained a new crane, the Van Seumeren Demag CC-12600, to replace Big Blue and have decided to reduce the weight of future roof piece lifts by about one-third from the earlier levels of 400 to 450 tons each.