Engineering firm and others involved in hotel’s construction are cited by OSHA for its collapse.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently reported that the collapse of the 18-story Hard Rock Hotel in October 2019, still under construction at the time, was largely caused by structural flaws for which Heaslip Engineering LLC was responsible. OSHA said the firm caused “willful and serious violations that affected the structural integrity of the building,” including improperly designed load-bearing portions on the upper levels. It was fined about $154,200 of the total $306,000 in fees.
Attorney for owner James Heaslip and the engineering company, Kelly Theard, said it had done “impeccable work on hundreds of projects” and the company “adamantly disputes the findings.” A statement reads, “We believe OSHA’s conclusions are unwarranted, not supported by the facts and beyond the jurisdiction of OSHA’s statutory authority. Heaslip unequivocally denies any ‘willful’ or ‘serious’ wrongdoing and will vigorously contest all of the citations through the procedures required by OSHA.”
OSHA also accused ten additional companies working on the Hard Rock Hotel of a range of safety violations. One of the citations was against Heaslip for “including steel connections that were inadequately designed, reviewed or approved, affecting the structural integrity of the building.” According to the agency, a ‘willful violation’ as one in which “the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”
The list of companies cited in the report are as follows: Heaslip Engineering LLC; Suncoast Projects LLC dba Hub Steel; Citadel Builders LLC; REY.CO Inc.; Mata Masonry LLC; King Company LLC; Hutco Inc.; Regional Mechanical Services LLC; Rush Masonry Inc.; Southern Services and Equipment Inc.; S&S Construction and Consulting LLC.
Workers were reportedly voicing concerns about the structure before it collapsed. “It’s going to break. Look at this one,” a worker explains in Spanish as he takes video just a few days before the whole thing caved in. A steel pole shown, warped to the point that it cannot be safely removed.
Authorities in New Orleans have been waiting on the regulatory agency’s report to determine how to proceed with local penalties. New Orleans city officials said they “were reviewing the OSHA violations.” 1031 Canal, the consortium developing the project, presented a demolition proposal. However, city officials will not move forward with any proposal that will place workers safety at risk as they work to take down the unstable structure.
A letter dated Jan. 31, 2020 from Mayor LaToya Cantrell to Brian Alexander, Hard Rock International’s vice president of business affairs, requested assistance with ongoing costs:
“The City of New Orleans (“City”) is continuing to reel in responding to the ongoing Hard Rock building collapse disaster. Sadly, the remains of two (2) deceased construction workers are still in the collapsed Hard Rock building and have not yet been returned to their families. Additionally, significant City resources continue to be expended in responding to this Hard Rock tragedy. Further, as you are aware, the building remains an eye sore in the heart of New Orleans and has not yet been demolished by property owners”
The mayor also stated, “The remaining threats to the health, safety, welfare, and property of the residents of the City of New Orleans are still in existence due to the partial demolition of the construction cranes, which have collapsed onto the remaining structure. Engineers’ inspections reveal the current structure to be unsafe, as well as a clear threat to human life and public safety and must be demolished in full.”