By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The federal agency that investigated a fatal balcony collapse at a Sea Isle City high-rise condominium has fined a construction contractor more than $18,000 for a series of safety violations related to the accident.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced the fines Monday against Ferguson Contracting Inc., a Yardley, Pa., contractor that was working on the balconies of the South Tower of the oceanfront Spinnaker Condominiums when the accident happened on Feb. 24.
As part of the investigative process, Ferguson Contracting has three options in response to the proposed fines – pay them without question, challenge them or request a meeting with OSHA to possible have the penalties reduced or eliminated. The company did not return a message Monday seeking comment.
Jose Pereira, 43, a Ferguson employee, was working on the exterior of the Spinnaker’s South Tower when the concrete balcony on the eighth floor collapsed and crushed him. He was standing on a balcony on the seventh floor.
Two other workers were on the balcony on the eighth floor when it collapsed, but they suffered only minor injuries and were treated at the scene.
“Employees were cutting and chipping cement balconies as part of a restoration project. One of the balconies broke free while they were performing that work and crushed an employee that was working on the balcony below. The balcony was not inspected by a competent person as the work progressed to determine if shoring or bracing was needed,” OSHA said in a document released Monday.
During its investigation, OSHA concluded that there were five “serious” safety violations by Ferguson related to the accident. Altogether, the company was fined $18,082. OSHA has ordered the company to correct the violations and provide proof that it has done so.
Ferguson Contracting has no prior history of OSHA violations, the agency previously announced.
The violations cited by OSHA stemming from the balcony collapse are as follows:
- “The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to the hazard of being caught in a structural collapse.”
- “The employer did not identify and evaluate the respiratory hazard(s) in the workplace; including a reasonable estimate of employee exposures to respiratory hazards and identification of the contaminant’s chemical state and physical (characteristics).”
- “Employees were performing restoration work on existing exterior balconies which included chipping and cutting operations. The employer did not have a hazardous communication program as required by the standard.”
- “Employer did not instruct employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions such as removing excessive amount of concrete during balcony repair, sawing through rebar in the balcony, and shoring and stabilization of balcony prior to work starting.”
- “Vertical lifelines were not fastened to a fixed safe point of anchorage, independent of the scaffold, and protected from sharp edges and abrasion.”
Following the balcony collapse, Sea Isle shut down virtually all access to the Spinnaker’s South Tower while an engineering company determined whether the high-rise building is structurally sound.
An engineering report completed in March concluded that the structural integrity of the South Tower “remains intact” despite the balcony collapse. Once the building was deemed safe, the city allowed residents and business owners to return to the South Tower in late March.
The balconies on the seventh and eighth floors have not yet been replaced on the exterior of the Spinnaker’s South Tower. Wood support beams were placed underneath the balconies on the other floors to strengthen them after the collapse.
The Spinnaker condominiums were built in the early 1970s and include twin north and south towers nine stories tall overlooking the ocean at 3500-3700 Boardwalk.
Each condo has a balcony facing the ocean, while most of the three-bedroom units also have a larger balcony on the side of the building, according to a chronology of the Spinnaker’s construction at History – Spinnaker (spinnakersic.com). It was one of the side balconies that collapsed on the eighth floor of the South Tower.