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3 Firms Are Cited Over Fatal Crane Accident : Safety: Cal/OSHA officials say support beneath massive equipment was inadequate. A worker was killed in incident at Edwards Air Force Base last year.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State investigators cited three companies Friday for job safety violations in connection with a crane accident involving a Titan 4 rocket motor that killed one worker and caused a spectacular fire at Edwards Air Force Base in September, officials said.

The job safety agency Cal/OSHA found after a five-month investigation that the giant crane collapsed Sept. 7, 1990, because its treads broke through an inadequate gravel surface being used to compensate for the uneven asphalt floor of an outdoor test site, according to officials.

Cal/OSHA Deputy Director Mark Carleson said the agency issued 16 citations Friday calling for a total of about $32,000 in fines, divided in roughly equal amounts among Hercules Aerospace Inc., the Utah-based rocket motor manufacturer; Neil F. Lampson Inc., the Washington state-based crane operator, and Wyle Laboratories of El Segundo, which provided laborers for rocket motor tests.

The companies allowed employees to work in an environment that was unsafe because the 400-foot, 2.9-million-pound crane, one of the largest in use, was operating on a surface that could not support its weight, officials said. The employers also did not properly train employees in emergency procedures or provide escape route assignments for the site at the base’s Astronautics Laboratory, the investigation found.

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“Based on the setup they had, it wasn’t safe with any load,” Carleson said. “It was not well-engineered. They thought this process was appropriate, but obviously they just did not do a very good job.”

Alan Quimby, a 27-year-old Wyle technician from Lancaster, was killed by concrete counterweights that toppled when the boom of the crane collapsed as Quimby was helping direct the removal of the Titan 4 rocket motor segment from a test stand. Nine fellow employees were injured, two seriously, after the motor segment containing 270,000 pounds of solid fuel dropped 70 feet to the ground, skidded down a hillside and erupted in flames.

The companies have 15 days to appeal the civil actions to the Cal/OSHA appeals board, Carleson said. All three are subcontractors to Martin Marietta Corp., which has an approximately $7.3-billion contract to build and develop Titan 4 rockets for the Air Force.

Officials at the companies did not return phone calls seeking comment. Air Force spokesmen declined comment except to say that a separate Air Force investigation is not complete.

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The collapse occurred when the tank-like treads of the crane’s front crawler moved off plywood mats used to provide a level surface and broke through the gravel beneath, causing the load to shift and throw the crane off balance, Carleson said.

The material, known as “pea gravel,” was placed at the test site after supervisors determined the asphalt floor had been worn down by heavy equipment and was not sufficiently level, Cal/OSHA officials said. But the gravel should not have been used because it could not safely support the crane, Carleson said.

In addition, the plywood mats laid over the bed of gravel were 1 1/2 inches thick, Carleson said. Investigators believe the company should have used stronger supports common in heavy crane operations, employing solid oak mats that are 12 inches thick.

Investigators found that the three employers committed “serious” but not “willful” violations, meaning that they did not knowingly permit unsafe conditions, Carleson said.

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Carleson said investigators had no information that workers expressed safety concerns before the accident.

Lampson and Hercules agreed in December to pay a $2.4-million settlement to Quimby’s wife and 3-month-old daughter, who live in Lompoc. Attorneys for the family said Wyle Labs was not involved in the settlement.


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