NBC10 - Harry Hairston
A SEPTA bus that is traveling eastbound on Market Street from 23rd street headed toward 22nd Street captures the video of the Center City building collapse on June 5, 2013. NBC10's Harry Hairston reports.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today proposed nearly $400,000 in penalties and issued construction safety citations to Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop for violations stemming from the June, Center City building collapse that left six people dead and injured 13 others.
OSHA's assistant secretary of labor David Michaels, OSHA's directorate of construction Jim Maddux, and the director of OSHA's Philadelphia area office Domenick Salvatore revealed details regarding the specific citations during a teleconference call this afternoon.
On the call, assistant secretary of labor David Michaels said the collapse could have and should have been prevented.
“Campbell Construction and S&R Contracting sacrificed worker and public safety through the deliberate neglect of demolition safety fundamentals,” Michaels said. “This tragic incident could and should have been prevented.”
Campbell's construction company was hired to demolish a four-story building at 22nd and Market Street. On the morning of June 5, the building under demolition crumpled into a Salvation Army thrift store burying its occupants in brick and mortar. Six people were killed and thirteen others injured.
According to investigators with the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, an excavator operator working for Campbell, Sean Benschop a.k.a. Kary Roberts, was allegedly high on drugs while operating heavy machinery on the demolition site. Benschop is currently behind bars and faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 13 counts of reckless endangerment. A request to have his $1.6 million bail reduced was denied by a judge in September.
Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who is handling several civil lawsuits related to the building collapse, released a statement further condemning Campbell and Benschop as responsible parties in the collapse.
"The finding of willful violations–the harshest OSHA penalty–against the demolition contractors Campbell Construction (Griffin Campbell) and S&R Contracting (Sean Benschop), leave no doubt that this catastrophe was caused by an utter lack of planning over months," Mongeluzzi said.
According to OSHA, the purpose of today's announcement was to highlight the agency's construction demolition standards, the hazards associated with demolition work and how to prevent future tragedies through proper precautions and training.
"When OSHA conducts an investigation, if violations are found, citations are issued. That's what's being done today," an OSHA spokesman said.
OSHA cited Campbell and Benschop, and applied maximum fines for a number of egregious and willful violations including, failure to demolish the building from the top down and leaving an unsupported wall more than one story high.
OSHA proposed a $313,000 penalty for Griffin Campbell and Campbell Construction, and a $84,000 penalty for Sean Benschop and S&R Contracting for a total of $397,000 in penalties.
According to OSHA, both companies have 15 days to respond to the citations.
Michaels said he hopes the citations will send a message about the agency's strict enforcement for violations of its standards.
"We hope these citations will send a clear message to employers in Philadelphia and across the country that cutting corners will be punished," he said.
The agency did not reveal whether it would issue an official report of its full investigation findings or whether citations would be issued against other parties involved in the collapse including, The Salvation Army, the building owner, developer Richard Basciano his company STB Investments, or construction architect Plato Marinakos, some of which have been named in civil suits following the incident.
Mongeluzzi said OSHA's failure to issue citations against STB and the Salvation Army, do not indicate the entities' innocence.
"There is overwhelming evidence that both STB and the Salvation Army are responsible for this catastrophy. The citations against the contractors in no way diminish the responsibility of STB investments, Inc., or the Salvation Army who mutually acknowledged the danger of a collapse before the tragedy,” he said.
Attornery Steven Wigrizer is representing the families of 52-year-old immigrant from Sierra Leone and mother of eight Roseline Conteh, and Bryn Mawr native and Haverford High School graduate Mary Lea Simpson, who were both killed in the collapse.
Wigrizer said OSHA's fines are appropriate but do not excuse STB and the Salvation Army's role in the collapse.
"OSHA’s jurisdiction and priorities were clearly to look at violations of demolition construction standards and certainly these citations were appropriate. At the end of the day we believe that the evidence will show that this flawed plan originated with Richard Basciano and STB, and that the Salvation Army had a clear opportunity to avoid this tragedy," Wigrizer said.
OSHA officials confirmed that separate investigations of other entities involved in the collapse are underway. According to Wigrizer, OSHA has three weeks to cite additional parties.