Secretary of Labor v. S&R Enterprises, LLC demonstrates the importance of adequately pre-planning all hoisting operations especially in the realm of steel erection, preferably in writing and with clear instruction to all involved employees to avoid accidents. This matter arose in Savannah, Georgia in June 2019 involving the hoisting of a grappler (a giant steel claw) that weighed 10,500 lbs., which was intended as a decorative element for a hotel lobby that became displaced, causing serious injuries to three workers on site.
S&R Enterprises, LLC (“S&R”) is a steel erection contractor who had been a subcontractor on a renovation project for roughly two years prior to the incident. The project was to re-purpose a decommissioned power plant and transform it into a luxury hotel. S&R was asked by the hotel owner to hang an industrial grappler (a giant steel claw) to the new hotel’s atrium lobby, as a decorative element. This request was not a part of S&R’s original scope of work, but they agreed to do so. S&R determined it would not be possible to position a crane in the area to perform a conventional lift. Instead, they decided to use an air tugger consisting of a drum and cable. To perform the lift, a padeye (a steel plate with a hole in it used as an attachment point) was welded to the east and west girders. The grappler was supported by these two girders. The plan was to run the wire rope from the padeye of the east girder to the rigging attached to the grappler, up to the padeye on the west girder and down to the air tugger which would pull the rope to raise the grappler.
Prior to the commencement of the lift, S&R’s vice-president prepared a written, activity hazard analysis (AHA) based upon the assistant superintendent’s drawing of the proposed plan. The AHA identified the job steps, hazards and controls of the operation with numbered instructions. It specifically mentioned how no workers were to be under the suspended load at any point during the lift. During the operation, the padeye on the west girder tore away causing the weight of the grappler and rigging to fall. The weight of grappler dragged the wire rope against the personnel basket of the aerial lift, damaging the basket and injuring two employees and another employee who was struck by a wire, while supervising the lift. The fall resulted in serious injuries and hospitalization of three workers.
After the incident, OSHA’s compliance officer came to inspect the site. Upon investigation he determined that the assistant superintendent had done no metallurgical testing to ascertain the strength of the girders. The compliance officer believed the measurement could have been taken prior to the lift to get a better calculation of the load of the girders. His opinion resulted in a two-item citation of two statutes. The first statute cited was for failing to adequately determine the lift, thickness, and strength of the steel erection hosting operation given that “all hoisting operations in steel erection shall be pre-planned to ensure that the requirements” of the applicable standard are met. The second statute cited was for not adequately rigging the hoisted material (the grappler) to prevent displacement. The matter was brought before an ALJ for OSHA’s Review Commission. Here, the facts were not in dispute but rather the interpretation of the steel erection standard’s requirements and definitions.
Whether the cited statutes applied depended first upon whether S&R engaged in “steel erection” when it attempted to raise the grappler to the overhead crane hook. By definition of the subpart of the cited statute, steel erection is the “construction, alteration or repair of steel buildings, bridges and other structures, including the installation of metal decking and all planking used during the process of erection.” Steel erection activities include installation of miscellaneous metals, ornamental iron and similar materials. Therefore, the ALJ determined S&R’s activities fell within this standard.
Although S&R at the time was deemed to be engaged in “steel erection” activity, the Secretary failed to establish S&R was noncompliant with the cited statutes. Even though there was no written requirement to have a pre-plan of the hoisting, in writing, S&R had developed a written activity hazard analysis prior to the lift. The failing of the girder to sustain of the weight of the hoisted load was not considered/planned for by S&R. Although the failure to calculate load capacity was a significant omission, it was not addressed by the cited standard which required an employer to preplan the route of the suspended load so that no employee was required to work under it. Here, there were specific instructions in S&R’s AHA to not be under the load, but employees acted contrary to this instruction. How the lift was preplanned and how the lift actually transpired were separate issues and the ALJ found that the Secretary failed to establish that S&R violated the applicable standard and thus vacated this citation.
As to the second citation, in terms of failing to prevent displacement of the hoisted material, here the grappler, the ALJ inquired about the definition of “load” in this context and found that the structure that supports the weight being hoisted cannot, by definition, be a part of the load. Therefore, the west girder which caused the fall was not part of the materials being hoisted. Although S&R failed to accurately assess the load capacity of both east and west girder, that is not detailed in the cited statute for this violation and the “failure of the lift is not enough…to establish S&R violated the standard the Secretary chose to cite.” Evidence was not presented showing S&R rigged the load incorrectly or the equipment it used was faulty and therefore this citation was vacated as well.