Contractors failed to properly secure and inspect columns and other structural elements in a Miami Dade College garage that collapsed during construction last year, federal job-safety officials said in issuing citations against five companies on Wednesday.
Four workers died and seven others were injured in the Oct. 10 collapse at the college’s Doral campus.
The brief citations filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration do not explicitly blame the collapse on those errors and contain no comprehensive examination of the cause. That explanation will come later in a detailed report compiled once the contractors have had a chance to reply to the agency’s findings, OSHA and people familiar with the process said. The college is also conducting its own probe.
But the citations appear to bolster claims outlined by attorneys handling several lawsuits filed by victims of the collapse and their families. The attorneys say that contractors, working under a tight deadline and rushing to finish the job, made a litany of mistakes, including failing to cement the base of at least one column as required by plans. The defect was not detected in inspections, they say.
When a crane struck the garage, the unsecured column shifted, probably helping precipitate the collapse two days later, attorney Ervin Gonzalez said in a recent court hearing.
“There is already enough in these reports to verify that we’re on the right track,’’ said Stuart Grossman, who is representing several victims and collaborating on a private investigation with Gonzalez and attorney Alan Goldfarb. “I am obviously shocked at the findings, but they’re exactly what I suspected. This was a misadventure from start to finish, and the lives of these families will never be the same.’’
OSHA issued fines ranging from $4,900 to $7,000 against the general contractor, Ajax Building Corp., and four subcontractors. The amount of the fines is set by federal statute.
The citations say:
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In a statement released through a spokeswoman, the general contractor said: “Ajax continues to actively cooperate with OSHA in its review through the informal conference process, and out of respect for that process we will reserve any comment until the review is concluded.’’
Representatives of the four subcontractors could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Miami Dade College, which is not a subject of the OSHA investigation, also declined to address the citations. Though the school had commissioned the project, it is not legally liable for the collapse because the garage was not finished and had not been accepted by MDC, victims’ lawyers agree.
“These developments and other recent legal proceedings have nothing to do directly with the college,’’ MDC spokesman Juan Mendieta said in an email. “We will comment at the appropriate time in the future when all facts are known. Thoroughness in this process, not expeditiousness, remains our top priority. The college is working with multiple internal and external investigators it has hired.’’
Because of the method used in erecting the garage and the way it collapsed, independent experts early on zeroed in on construction errors, rather than design, as a likely cause.
Like most stand-alone parking structures across the country, the $24.5 million MDC garage was being assembled on site from prefabricated concrete pieces that are hoisted into place like a giant Erector set, and then temporarily shored up until structural elements can be permanently welded, cemented and bolted together. That precast concrete construction approach is fast and relatively inexpensive, but requires close supervision by engineers and contractors, experts say.
The garage caved in without warning while workers were inside two days after the crane struck a column. A cement truck driver was trapped in the cab for hours, and died after emergency workers were forced to amputate his legs to free him.
Christian Ramirez, a 20-year-old laborer, remains in a wheelchair seven months after rescue workers pulled his battered body from the rubble. Ramirez, who attended a news briefing to discuss the OSHA citations at the Coral Gables office of Grossman, his attorney, suffered brain bleeding, seizures and a series of broken bones — from his pelvis to his ankles, wrists and feet — and is still undergoing therapy.
Ramirez said contractors seemed in a rush to complete the project.
“I always though something was going to go wrong,’’ said Ramirez, who was buried in the rubble for about 2½ hours, an experience he described in low, sometimes halting words.
The attorneys said they have retained a team of experts who uncovered far more violations than OSHA has cited. The ruins of the garage revealed a litany of construction short-cuts and inspection failures, all of which likely contributed to the tragic collapse, Grossman said.
The victims’ attorneys said contractors inspected and repaired the column that was struck by the crane, but neglected to check adjacent columns. As it turns out, an adjacent column, identified as B-3 in plans, lacked the needed concrete grouting at the base, they say.
Inspectors missed the lack of concrete because they failed to properly inspect the column after installation and after the crane accident, possibly because the base of that column, like several others in the area, was covered by puddles from recent rains, Gonzalez said.
The OSHA citations note the lack of grouting on the base of column B-3, as well as another column. OSHA also noted that a horizontal support that attaches to column B-3 lacked required welds.
“This was an accident waiting to happen,” Gonzalez said on Wednesday. “They put speed ahead of safety.’’