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Procedure error tied to fall of scaffold

Lack of crane cited in report on accident

Workers taking down scaffolding at an Emerson College dormitory construction site went too far and disconnected the final metal tie securing a 3-ton platform to the side of the building without first attaching the scaffold to a crane, says a report released yesterday.

Without the crane, the scaffold's work platform was precariously balanced atop an unsupported mast more than 100 feet from the ground and eventually tipped over, killing three people as it crashed onto a busy downtown street, says the report, which was written by Macomber Builders and gives the most detailed look yet at the cause of the accident.

Work at the site could resume as early as today if Macomber Builders, the company in charge of the construction, meets new safety conditions, including inspecting and shoring up other scaffolding at the site and not dismantling the platforms without trained operators and a crane, city officials said yesterday.

The April 3 collapse killed Robert Beane, 41, a foreman for Bostonian Masonry, and Romildo Silva, 27, a laborer for the same company, who were working on the platform. Dr. Michael Ty, 28, died when the platform crushed the Honda sedan he was driving on Boylston Street. The accident tied up traffic for hours, as stunned passersby marveled at how chance had saved them from death or injury.

A union representative and a former co-worker said that the final tie securing the scaffolding was disconnected by the one worker on the platform who survived the collapse, Shawn Armeen, 34, of Nashua, N.H. The Bostonian Masonry employee told friends gathered at the scene that he and Beane had both been removing the metal ties securing the scaffolding to the building, said Jack Johnson of Whitman, the former co-worker of Armeen's, who rushed to the site to comfort him after the accident.

In an interview last week, Johnson said that Armeen told him he unfastened the final bolt holding the last tie and then felt something move and spoke with Beane about it.

''He said to Bobby, 'Did you feel that?' " Johnson said Armeen told him. ''Bobby said, 'Yeah.' "

At that point, the 34-foot-long platform on the 14-story building's northeast corner was ''freestanding" atop a single, unsupported mast high above the ground. Beane quickly instructed Silva to start cutting away a weatherproofing tarp that might catch gusts of wind like a sail and send the structure tumbling, Johnson said. But the effort was futile.

''That's when it started to tip," Johnson said.

Armeen, who did not return calls for comment yesterday, was in the middle of the platform and was able to jump into a 5-inch-deep hole in the building, left open for a piece of limestone the crew had not yet placed. Beane, who had been on a far end of the platform, and Silva had no similar perch nearby, Johnson said.

The official with Armeen's union said last night that people should not judge Armeen before knowing all the facts. ''He was a laborer doing what he was told to do," said Michael Gagliardi, business manager of Laborers' International Union Local 175 in Lawrence.

Gagliardi said several issues related to the accident need more review, including whether the scaffolding was erected properly and who was responsible for instructing Beane on its dismantling.

Gagliardi and Armeen's lawyer, Walter H. Underhill of Boston, said they met for several hours yesterday with federal investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Gagliardi, Underhill, and Johnson, Armeen's former co-worker, said the same scaffolding had shifted and teetered once before, triggering a visit by manufacturer's representatives.

Officials at the manufacturer, Fraco Products Ltd. of Montreal, could not be reached last night to confirm the earlier incident. They have said that as a safety precaution, a crane should have been attached while the scaffold was being dismantled. The report says a crane was scheduled to arrive on April 29 to help remove the scaffolds, but does not say why the dismantling proceeded before then.

City officials cited Macomber for failing to protect public safety in the incident and required the company to submit the report explaining what happened and how it would prevent it from happening again. The report, written by an executive at Macomber Builders, includes a four-page cover letter and 40 pages of supporting documents and outlines several steps that city officials say must be completed before construction can resume.

Platforms on other scaffolds must be lowered and inspected, a metal tie must be installed on one of the scaffolds to secure it to a building, and another scaffold needs to be balanced with a 900-pound weight, the report said.

Dismantling of the scaffolds will happen only with the help of a crane and trained Fraco operators, the report said. Documents included in the report show that Silva received training on the mast-climbing scaffold. Neither Beane nor Armeen was listed, but the report said Beane was ''extremely familiar with all aspects" of the Fraco system.

Macomber Builders and Fraco officials did not return calls for comment yesterday. A spokeswoman for Bostonian Masonry declined to comment, as did Louis A. Mandarini Jr., business manager of the union representing Silva.

Lawmakers will gather today to plan potentially sweeping regulation of the construction industry. Legislators said the Beacon Hill hearing would be modeled on recent sessions on the Rhode Island nightclub fire and a Shrewsbury church fair fatality that led to stringent new rules.

Macomber and Bostonian Masonry declined invitations to testify at today's State House hearing, where lawmakers said they planned to examine whether current construction regulations sufficiently protect workers and the public.

Officials from Governor Mitt Romney's administration are scheduled to speak, as are Commissioner William Good and Gary Moccia of Boston's Inspectional Services Department, along with construction industry officials. Lawmakers said it was unclear which agency should take the lead in monitoring construction sites, a debate that has emerged since last week's accident as city and state officials blamed each other for a lack of regulatory oversight.

''We need answers on how our inspectional system failed us and how we can protect against such failures in the future," said state Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat who is cochairman of the committee holding the hearing. ''We need to clarify where fault lies but also to point us toward remedying a regulatory system that seems to have failed us."

Representative Theodore C. Speliotis said that lawmakers want to act soon. ''It couldn't have been a more visible accident, in the heart of our capital city," the Danvers Democrat said.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said his office would cooperate with the legislative process.

''Our thoughts remain with the victims and their families," said the spokeswoman, Beth Stone. ''As we continue to learn more about what happened that day, we are hopeful this hearing will help identify ways that government can work together, now and in the future, to ensure workplace safety."

Yesterday evening, about 15 Emerson students gathered at a residence hall, then walked down Boylston to the construction site, carrying lighted candles. One by one, they laid down their candles, then a bouquet of brightly colored flowers. They stood solemnly for several minutes until all the candles went out.

Raja Mishra and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Hailey Heinz contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

scaffolding collapse
TODAY'S COVERAGE:
 Family files suit in scaffold collapse (Boston Globe, 4/13/06)
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