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Demolition company faces fines in Weedon Island building collapse that killed worker

In June, recovery crews search for 65-year-old welder Clark White at Progress Energy Florida’s Paul L. Bartow Power Plant on Weedon Island. Frontier Industrial Corp. has been faulted.

Photo by ERIC HAUSMANN

In June, recovery crews search for 65-year-old welder Clark White at Progress Energy Florida’s Paul L. Bartow Power Plant on Weedon Island. Frontier Industrial Corp. has been faulted.

ST. PETERSBURG — Federal investigators have determined that a demolition company whose worker was killed during a building collapse on Weedon Island in June should pay more than $12,000 in fines for serious safety violations.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration, which recently finished an investigation into the death of welder Clark White, 65, determined New York-based Frontier Industrial Corp. committed two serious safety violations.

The federal agency found that structures at the site were overstressed and that inspections weren't being done during the project, according to documents obtained Tuesday by the St. Petersburg Times.

Each violation carries a potential penalty of $6,300.

In citation documents, OSHA said columns weakened by cutting and notching in preparation for demolition were overstressed.

In addition, the agency said employees were allowed to continue working after the unexpected failure of a column, and no building inspection occurred that day to ensure stability.

Frontier and OSHA officials will meet today in an informal conference to discuss the agency's findings and recommendations.

"Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't," said Mike D'Aquino, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Labor.

A spokesman for Frontier said the company was going to follow the process and couldn't provide further comment.

After today's conference, OSHA could decide to let the violations and fines stand or reduce them. The company also could decide to contest them.

Rick Gleason, an OSHA expert with no connection to the case, said the agency can only impose a fine of up to $7,000 for each violation determined to be "serious."

According to OSHA's website, a serious violation is one "where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard."

The most severe violation the agency can hand down is a "willful" violation, which carries penalties of up to $70,000 and usually involves a mass casualty or particularly egregious situation, Gleason said.

"It's extremely difficult for OSHA to prove a willful violation," said Gleason, a former OSHA inspector and current lecturer at the University of Washington. "That's rare. Most of them are 'serious.' … The goal is to get it compliant and to make sure this never happens again."

White, a father, grandfather and Army veteran from West Virginia, was part of a crew demolishing an old Progress Energy plant on the island. He was on the ground floor when the 180-foot-tall structure came down about an hour before it was supposed to on the evening of June 9.

White was said to have heard cracking and popping sounds moments before the collapse. He yelled for others on the crew, which included his son and a nephew, to get out, but he didn't make it.

The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office found White died instantly of blunt trauma.

"We haven't gotten any answers as to what went wrong," said Michael Ondeck, White's son-in-law. "That's all the family really wants."

Ondeck said the family has hired an attorney to help get more answers. They have not ruled out a lawsuit, he said.

Clark had more than 15 years of experience in the demolition industry, and Frontier officials called him a father figure to many in the company. Crews found his body after a grueling, four-day search through a mound of rubble.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

Demolition company faces fines in Weedon Island building collapse that killed worker 12/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 11:20pm]
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