After a months-long investigation, OSHA has cited and fined 11 firms in connection with the October 2019 partial collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans. The agency has proposed fines totaling $315,536, and all companies have 15 days to contest the monetary fines and citations.
Heaslip Engineering LLC drew the largest fine, $154,214, and the only willful citation among the group. Among Heaslip's alleged violations were:
- The company's work resulted in design flaws such as the floor beams on the 16th floor being under-designed in load capacity.
- The western side exterior bay not being tied into a rigid portion of the structure for floors nine through 15 between column lines one and nine.
- Cantilevers on the 17th and 18th floors exceeded the manufacturer's guidance for maximum spans.
OSHA also said the engineering firm did not maintain the required accident prevention programs and that Heaslip created hazards for workers on the eighth through 18th floors by inadequately designing, reviewing and approving structural steel connections.
Suncoast Projects LLC, dba Hub Steel, based in Groveland, Florida, had the second-highest total fines of $37,191, and was cited for several jobsite deficiencies, including:
- Failure to maintain the required material safety data sheets for the chemicals it used on the project.
- Failure to provide adequate worker training on the proper use and handling of those materials.
- Failure to ensure free and unobstructed egress from the building for structural steel workers on the seventh through 18th floors.
- Failure to furnish workers with adequate personal protective equipment.
OSHA also cited general contractor Citadel Builders LLC for not providing the temporary lighting necessary for safe egress; for not marking exits with visibly marked signage; and for not ensuring that drawings or plans for beam shoring were available at the jobsite. The agency proposed that Citadel, which is a member of the hotel's development team, pay $28,338 in fines.
Other contractors cited for safety violations at the Hard Rock were:
- REY.CO Inc. ($23,697)
- F. Mata Masonry LLC ($12,723)
- King Company LLC ($12,145)
- Hutco Inc. ($10,794)
- Regional Mechanical Services LLC ($9.446)
- Rush Masonry Inc. ($9.446)
- Southern Services and Equipment Inc. ($9,446)
- S&S Construction and Consulting LLC ($8,096).
Since Rush, Hutco, REY.CO, S&S and Southern Services had no repeat, willful or failure-to-abate, or high-gravity serious violations, and since investigators reported that they understood their abatement responsibilities and were willing to carry them out by OSHA deadlines, the agency made each of those firms eligible for an Expedited Informal Settlement Agreement (EISA). As part of the EISA, the contractors are eligible for a 40% fine reduction as long as they provide proof of abatement by the OSHA deadline.
Attorney Kelly Theard with the law firm of Deutsch Kerrigan LLP in New Orleans defended Heaslip's record of work and disputed OSHA's findings. "We believe OSHA’s conclusions are unwarranted, not supported by the facts and beyond the jurisdiction of OSHA’s statutory authority," Theard told Construction Dive. "Heaslip unequivocally denies any ‘willful’ or ‘serious’ wrongdoing and will vigorously contest all of the citations through the procedures required by OSHA.”
The OSHA investigation did not touch on the role of the city's building department in ensuring the integrity of the construction process. Two inspectors were suspended in February amid allegations that they signed off on building inspections for several projects, including those for the Hard Rock, despite evidence that they did not actually visit the sites.
The city and developer 1031 Canal Development, which was not fined, are still trying to reach an agreement on how the hotel will be demolished. There are still two bodies trapped inside the structure.
DH Griffin Wrecking had a contract to demolish the building, but, according to Fox 8 in New Orleans, the company could not obtain liability insurance for the planned implosion. The developer has now reportedly entered into an agreement with Kolb Grading to perform a more traditional demolition, similar to a plan that 1031 Canal proposed at the end of last year.