The construction company linked to the Copper Lounge building collapse that killed one person and trapped another is being fined nearly $100,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Hultgren Construction has reportedly been cited for almost 30 violations linked only to the collapse of the building itself. The company still faces an investigation regarding the death of its worker during the structural collapse in South Dakota.
One Worker Died in South Dakota Building Collapse
Ethan McMahon was 24 years old and had been working for Hultgren at the Copper Lounge on December 2, 2016. The company was in the process of taking down a load-bearing wall from between the Copper Lounge and a former bar when the building collapsed, killing McMahon. Emily Fodness, who was in an upstairs apartment at the time of the Copper Lounge building collapse, was trapped under debris for three hours.
While Hultgren has been fined around $100,000, another company, Command Center, which provided temporary workers for the project, was also fined more than $114,000 and faces a dozen citations.
OSHA Issues 41-Page Report Against Hultgren
Hultgren itself faces a report 41 pages long, though this list does not include the investigation into McMahon’s death. OSHA has until June 2 to issue its citations to the company involved in the structural failure.
Among citations against Hultgren were that workers were exposed to:
- Falls from the roof (including falls of up to 18 feet)
- Unsafe scaffolding
- Asbestos, silica, acids and welding fumes
- Crushing hazards
Meanwhile, Hultgren allegedly did not ensure workers were properly trained to operate a forklift, did not have a written hazard communication program, did not have an accident prevention program, and did not ensure employees had proper foot and head protection to prevent injuries.
Hultgren also did not properly remove the load-bearing wall, likely the cause of the Copper Lounge building collapse.
“The employer had employees and temporary employees engaged in the removal of a load-bearing wall and piled the brick and debris in different areas of the floor without ensuring the safe carrying capacities of the floor were not exceeded,” OHSA found. “This condition exposed employees to crushing hazards and fall hazards related to floor collapse.”
In an email statement to the Argus Media, Hultgren said it would be in contact with OSHA with their response to the fine and citations.
Command Center Faces Citations
Command Center, which provided some temporary labor for the South Dakota building demolition, also faces fines and citations for its role in the Copper Lounge building collapse. Among the complaints listed against Command Center in OSHA’s 24-page report are that the company did not have a safety program and it did not ensure employees wore proper safety gear when working in the building. One citation in the report notes that employees were allowed to wear tennis shoes while removing sections of a masonry brick wall, exposing employees to crushing hazards.
“Employees were exposed to fall hazards, scaffolding hazards, respiratory hazards to include silica and asbestos, and struck-by hazards,” OSHA wrote. “This condition exposed employees to hazards related to the demolition of a load-bearing wall.”
In a statement, an attorney for Command Center said that the company had nothing to do with the building collapse and all its workers were to carry out their duties under the supervision of Hultgren Construction.
“We believe the citations and penalties are grossly disproportionate to any activities our employees were involved in at the worksite prior to the collapse,” Brendan Simaytis said.
OSHA: Copper Lounge Building Collapse was “Preventable”
Initially following the Copper Lounge building collapse, Scott Allen, a spokesperson for OSHA, said the structural collapse was avoidable.
“This was a preventable accident we believe,” Allen said. “Anytime a construction worker or anyone is killed on the job, OSHA is going to look very closely at all of the details that happened and try to determine what caused the incident.”
Reports at the time indicated Hultgren Construction was hired to oversee the remodel of the building, which was undertaken so a drugstore could move in. Hultgren, however, reportedly did not have a permit to perform structural work on the building.
Results of the investigation into McMahon’s death are expected in the next month or so.
Building Collapse Attorney
Although there are laws designed to prevent building collapses from occurring, they still happen far too frequently. In some cases, a structure collapse is the result of negligence on the part of the company overseeing construction or demolition. Where companies have been negligent in their duties, the people affected by such tragedies may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the people or organizations responsible.