Lawmakers consider boosting safety violation fines after deadly - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lawmakers consider boosting safety violation fines after deadly tower collapse

Juan Navarro Juan Navarro
Darwin Ching Darwin Ching
State Rep. Karl Rhoads State Rep. Karl Rhoads

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two construction companies have been fined for a deadly tower collapse last year in Kapolei, but some lawmakers expressed concern that the fine was so small it sends the message that safety isn't valued.

The tower came down May 16, 2009 at the Hawaiian Cement plant at Campbell Industrial Park. Juan Navarro of California was killed underneath the rubble. He was one of the crew members working on demolishing the tower. Before the collapse they heard popping noises. Everyone evacuated safely but investigators say for some unknown reason Navarro went back inside. That's when it fell.

"He got out of the unsafe area and went into the safe area and then for some inexplicable reason he went back in," said Darwin Ching, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director. "All I can say is its one of those human factor issues that we're probably never going to know."

Ching says the focus of the state's investigation was that the victim was safe but went back in. It was not about what caused the tower to fall before they were ready.

Still Sans Construction and AG Transport were each fined $750 dollars for their part in the accident. According to state documents, AG Transport was cited for "failing to have a written engineering survey addressing the condition of the structure to be demolished and the possibility of an unplanned collapse of any portion of the structure." AG Transport was cited for "failing to ensure that its demolition co-contractor followed all applicable safety and health regulations."

"If the fines are big enough it sends a message to anyone being cavalier about safety practices to think twice, at $750 I don't think it affects any body's bottom line," said State Rep. Karl Rhoads, (D) Palama, Downtown, Chinatown.

Lawmakers say such a small fine short changes safety.

"It would appear the safety violation they committed might well have saved the person's life if they had followed through it," said Rep. Rhoads.

But the state says the $750 amount came from the mandatory fee schedule by law which takes into account factors like the gravity of the violation, the size of the company, the good faith of the employer and previous violations.

Ching says more important than the small fine is the fact both companies will have a "serious violation" on its record, which is a big black mark that could prevent them from getting future state and federal contracts worth millions.

"So if you focus on the $750 yes it seems like a slap on the wrist but if you focus on the fact that it's a result of a serious violation a citation which they accepted and the fact it will have implication on them getting future jobs, then that is a serious deterrent," said Ching.

Rhoads says he plans to work on adjusting the law to make penalties more severe next session.




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