Five contracting companies have been penalized more than $38,000 combined for a series of errors and oversights that led to last October's collapse of a college parking garage that killed four workers, federal safety regulators announced Wednesday.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found evidence of missing welds and grout in some support columns, failure to properly brace columns and failure to inspect 18 columns as required. OSHA also said contractors didn't follow project drawings and instructions.
The result, according to the citations, was a failure to provide a workplace "free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees."
The five-story, $20 million concrete garage at Miami Dade College's west campus collapsed Oct. 10 in one of the county's worst-ever workplace accidents. The body of one worker was not recovered for more than a week because the accident site was so unstable. The school's 8,000 students had to attend classes on other Miami-Dade campuses until January. No students were injured in the collapse.
Several lawsuits have been filed by families of the dead workers seeking potentially millions of dollars in damages. The OSHA citations are likely to bolster their chances in court, their attorneys said.
"I think this shows what we've been saying all along, that this was an accident waiting to happen. Literally, a death trap," said Ervin Gonzalez, who represents the families of two dead workers and one worker who was injured. Gonzalez added that evidence gathered so far shows the accident probably stemmed from a rush to finish the project.
"Let me say this to you now -- the concrete and steel don't lie," said Stuart Grossman, who represents Ramirez. "Right now, they've only cited five of the companies. I suspect more citations will come out."
"Helplessly waiting until someone came," said Christian Ramirez, who was buried under the rubble. "I just heard screaming."
The 1,855-space garage project involved use of pre-cast concrete construction, a common method in which massive concrete pieces are created off-site and slotted into place by workers often using large cranes. The first floor was to have office and classroom space.
The OSHA violations were labeled as serious, which under federal law allows for a maximum $7,000 penalty. The citations totaling $38,360 can be appealed to an OSHA commission.
The general contractor, Ajax Building Corp., was penalized $6,300 for not ensuring inspections were conducted and not adhering to project drawings.
"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," said Alia Faraj, a spokeswoman for the company.
The largest subcontractor penalty of $13,860 was imposed for two separate violations on Solar Erectors U.S. Inc. for the missing welds and grout and failure to brace several columns. A Solar Erectors official hung up when a reporter called for comment.
OSHA gave the contractors until April 25 to fix the problems it identified, but a decision still hasn't been made by Miami Dade College on whether to salvage the garage or demolish it. Since returning to campus, students have been parking at a nearby mall and using shuttle buses.
"We're still open to all options on the future of the existing structure," said Miami Dade College spokesman Juan Mendieta.
Mendieta told Local 10's Christina Vazquez that at this point MDC, does not have a comment regarding OSHA violations related to the deadly parking garage collapse on its West Campus. He said OSHA turned over the site to MDC just last week.
At this point, they will be conducting their own internal investigation with outside experts to determine the cause of the collapse and safety of the existing structure. At this time, Mendieta said it is unclear whether they can build-up from what remains or whether they will need to demolish it and re-build from scratch.
Mendieta said they are also looking into the inspection process. As a state agency MDC is "subject to a different process" Mendieta said, and not under the oversight of a city or county inspection process.
"It does not circumvent" the local process Mendieta added, "it is simply a different process...held to a higher standard than local building codes."
Mendieta went on to explain how that process includes "a self-permitting component with outside experts."
They also conduct their own inspections with third-party insight. That process is now under review. Stuart Grossman, Liah Catanese, and Alan Goldfarb are lawyers who represent some of the victims.
In a Wednesday afternoon news conference, the lawyers said MDC offered companies constructing the 2,000 space parking garage a financial incentive to complete the project in 50 days.
The lawyers believe that may have motivated them to "rush" through the project and skip critical steps like failing to inspect 18 columns, not ensuring the bases of some of the columns were properly grouted, not performing all the required welds and bracing.
Mendieta said he would have to look into it, but that offering financial incentives to meet progress deadlines is not "uncommon" when it comes to commercial construction projects.