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Philly Contractor Charged with Murder After Building Collapse

By Roy Maurer  11/26/2013
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Already cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for federal safety violations in connection with a June 2013 fatal building collapse in Philadelphia, the contractor responsible for overseeing the demolition now faces murder charges.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced Nov. 25, 2013, that Griffin Campbell is charged with six counts of third-degree murder and six counts of involuntary manslaughter.

District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement that a grand jury had determined that Campbell was “at the center of culpability for the collapse” and that the accident occurred because the building’s structural supports, including some of its wooden joists, had been removed early in the demolition, against the protests of the architect, leaving walls and floors without adequate support.

“It was Campbell who decided on the method of demolition and who personally controlled it in the manner that caused the catastrophe,” Williams said.

Williams said Campbell was being paid a flat fee for the demolition and was “unwilling to pay for enough labor to perform the task.”

On the day of the collapse, the western wall and what remained of the building’s southern and eastern walls caved in, sending tons of bricks and other debris onto the roof of a single-story Salvation Army store next door, with employees and shoppers inside, killing six and injuring 14.

The prosecutor also announced that crane operator Kary R. Roberts—also known as Sean Benschop—is facing an additional charge of criminal conspiracy in the case.

Roberts is currently in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing for involuntary manslaughter and other counts, after police said toxicology results showed he was under the influence of marijuana and prescription opiates while operating the crane.

OSHA’s Demolition Standards Violated

Campbell, doing business as Campbell Construction, and Roberts, doing business as S&R Contracting, were previously charged with several violations of OSHA’s demolition construction standards for the June collapse, including three willful per-instance violations.

“Campbell Construction and S&R Contracting sacrificed worker and public safety through the deliberate neglect of demolition safety fundamentals,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “This tragic incident could and should have been prevented.”

The OSHA demolition standards prohibit the removal of lateral support walls more than one story high, leaving the wall unsupported. On the three days leading up to the collapse, Campbell Construction removed critical, structural supports for the wall that collapsed, OSHA said. Campbell Construction also removed parts of the lower floors prior to the removal of the upper floors, again, contrary to the OSHA standards. As a result, the company has been cited for three willful, egregious violations for each day that it left the wall without sufficient lateral support, and two willful violations alleging the failures to demolish the building from the top down and the failure to provide an engineering survey prior to starting the demolition. S&R Contracting has been cited for one willful violation.

Additionally, Campbell Construction was cited for serious violations for the company’s failures to provide: employees with hard hats when there was a possible risk of head injury; fall protection for employees working on surfaces at least six feet high; training on fall hazards; and adequate personal fall arrest systems. Campbell Construction also failed to inspect stairs periodically and to maintain them in a clean, safe condition. S&R Contracting was cited for two serious violations for failing to protect employees from falling through holes and to provide fall hazard training.

OSHA proposed penalties of $313,000 for Campbell Construction and $84,000 for S&R Contracting.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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