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Company Fined $1.52 Million In Deaths Of Three Ironworkers

Thu., Jan. 22, 1998, midnight

The largest industrial accident fine in state history was levied Wednesday against a Detroit steel company for the deaths of three ironworkers at a Portland airport construction project.

Midwest Steel Inc. was fined $1.52 million for a list of lapses state officials say led to the July 31, 1997, deaths at a parking garage expansion project.

“I don’t think there’s any excuse,” said Peter DeLuca, administrator of the state Occupational Safety and Health Division.

Midwest Steel spokesman Dave Fiskum said the company already has filed an appeal.

He said the company has been made a “scapegoat for what was a terrible accident” and said its primary concern remains the families of the victims. It was the largest workplace safety fine levied against Midwest Steel in its 30-plus years in business.

“The size of the fine is clearly out of proportion,” Fiskum said. “It catches us at a substantial surprise. It’s way out of proportion to the technical errors that could have been involved in the project.”

An additional fine of $5,000 will be levied against Baugh Construction Oregon Inc., the general contractor in charge of the Portland International Airport’s $141 million expansion project.

Baugh also said it would appeal its fine.

The Occupational Safety and Health Division revealed the findings Tuesday to union officials, Midwest Steel, Baugh Construction and Port of Portland lawyers.

DeLuca said the bulk of the fine was for improper bolting.

He said there were 18 places on the steel frame that had only one bolt instead of two, as required by federal safety rules. Midwest Steel was fined $70,000 per bolt - $1.26 million.

Another major part of the fine was $70,000 for withholding information and documents, such as witness lists, from Midwest’s own investigation, DeLuca said.

“Frankly, this firm was not cooperative throughout this investigation,” he said.

DeLuca also said the four-story steel frame the ironworkers were attaching to the roof of the old parking garage was not properly braced with guy wires.

“That had a great deal to do with the collapsing of the steel,” DeLuca said.

The highest workplace safety fine previously assessed in Oregon was $1.4 million charged to Oregon Steel Mills Inc. for violating rules that govern worker exposure to cadmium and lead. After an appeal, the penalty was reduced to $156,360.

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