Midwest Steel fined $1.5 million in fatal airport accident

PORTLAND, OR -- Detroit-based Midwest Steel Inc., one of the largest steel erection companies in the United States, has been hit with the largest industrial accident fine in Oregon history -- $1.52 million -- for "willful" and "egregious" violations in the collapse at the Portland airport parking garage that killed three iron workers.

Peter DeLuca, administrator of the Oregon-Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA), said the company bypassed some of the basic rules of erecting steel and it accused Midwest of withholding documents, instructing employees to put off talking with state investigators and trying to smuggle evidence from the accident scene.

General contractor Baugh Construction was fined $2,500 for failure to provide adequate safety training and $2,500 for failure to provide a safe place of employment.

Both Midwest Steel and Baugh Construction have appealed the citations.

Iron Workers Christopher Rider, 33, of Vancouver; Don Soto, 24, of Portland, and Nick Colouzis, 54, of Seattle, were killed last July 31 when a 150-foot section of a seven-story parking garage under construction at Portland International Airport collapsed, pulling the three men who were tied off on steel beams into the rubble. A fourth iron worker was not tied off and was able to jump to safety.

Colouzis was a member and former business agent of Iron Workers Local 86 in Seattle. Soto was an apprentice of Portland-based Local 29 and Rider was a member of Alaska-based Iron Workers Local 751 who had been working out of Local 29 for nearly four years.

The families of Colouzis and Soto have filed multi-million-dollar lawsuits over the accident and Rider's family is also expected to file.

"We're absolutely confident that if our initial safety rules had been followed it would not have come down," said DeLuca, whose Salem-based agency investigated the accident for six months.

OSHA cited Midwest for 22 violations, all but four of them for inadequate bolting. The violations were classified as "willful," the most serious of three agency categories.

OSHA said steel beams were mounted with one bolt when two bolts were required. Midwest was fined $70,000 for each of the 18 bolting citations, a total of $1.26 million.

Midwest was also fined $70,000 for failure to use guy wires or bracing; $70,000 for failure to install decking or flooring; $70,000 for withholding information, and $50,000 for disturbing the accident scene.

Paddy Barry, business manager of Local 29, said that with the fines "OSHA is sending a strong message that it wants safe workplaces."

Barry said that "poor erection procedures" such as the failure to guy and brace the structure properly were significant factors in the accident. He also said that single-bolting lighter pieces of steel has been common practice in the industry for decades, "but that certainly is going to change."

Dave Fiskum, a Portland public relations spokesman for Midwest Steel, said the company was being made a "scapegoat for what was a terrible accident."


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