Workplace safety rules a part of ND death probe

RICK CALLAHAN - Associated Press,TOM COYNE - Associated Press
The Associated Press
In this Oct. 28, 2010, photo, a hydraulic scissor lift lies on its side near the Notre Dame football field in South Bend, Ind. Declan Sullivan, 20-year-old junior from Long Grove, Ill., died Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010, in South Bend, Ind., after the tower he was in while videotaping football practice toppled as high wind gusts swept through Indiana. (AP Photo/The Notre Dame Observer, Sam Werner) MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES
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In this Oct. 28, 2010, photo, a hydraulic scissor lift lies on its side near the Notre Dame football field in South Bend, Ind. Declan Sullivan, 20-year-old junior from Long Grove, Ill., died Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010, in South Bend, Ind., after the tower he was in while videotaping football practice toppled as high wind gusts swept through Indiana.

The investigation into the death of a University of Notre Dame student killed in a tower collapse will determine whether the school violated workplace and industry safety rules when it allowed a student to go up in the lift during high winds, a state official said Friday.

Investigators will focus on whether safety protocols were followed and what training Declan Sullivan received before going up on a scissor life to film the university's football practice, said Indiana Department of Workforce Development spokesman Marc Lotter.

Sullivan, 20, of Long Grove, Ill., died Wednesday after the lift toppled amid strong winds. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts as high as 51 mph at the time.

The state investigation also will look at whether a federal rule barring workers from using scaffolds during storms or high winds would apply, Lotter said. An attorney who represents relatives of people killed in accidents involving aerial work platforms said the scaffold rule does not apply to scissor lifts, though industry groups have drafted rules limiting use of the lifts in windy conditions.

Still, the Notre Dame accident clearly violates those industry standards and other federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules said attorney David L. Kwass, chairman of the American Association for Justice's crane and aerial lift litigation group.

"If there were indeed gusts up to 50 mph, which is what was reported, then it was completely inappropriate to put an operator at height in a scissor lift. That should never, never, never have occurred," Kwass said, saying doing so also violated "common sense."

A 2007 Notre Dame policy posted on a departmental website says lift operators must consider weather before using the devices, but university spokesman Dennis Brown would not say Friday whether the document reflected current policy.

"We're not providing any detail on the policy because it's part of the investigative process," he said.

The 14-page policy also appears to provide conflicting information about what training is required for lift users.

It says the department operating the lift is responsible for arranging training of lift users through the university's Risk Management and Safety Department. But it also requires lift users to sign a waiver acknowledging the university will not provide training and that they have reviewed manuals and understand how the lift operates.

Brown would not say whether Sullivan had signed a waiver.

As a student worker, Sullivan reported to a video coordinator who oversees filming for the athletic department. Messages left at the home and office of coordinator Tim Collins were not immediately returned Friday.

A friend said Sullivan never expressed concerns about working in the lift and questioned whether Sullivan actually feared for his life when he posted a messages on Twitter describing the wind gusts and saying it was "terrifying" to be on the tower.

"Knowing him, that was definitely not the case," said Shane Steinberg, 20, a junior from New York City.

"There's a misunderstanding in general of our social networking culture and what it all means. I think that the sarcasm of it all and the playfulness about them is falling through the cracks," he said.

Steinberg told The Associated Press he met Sullivan during their freshman year and quickly discovered a shared love of film. While Steinberg favored classics like "Citizen Kane," he said Sullivan would watch "terrible films that any other person would just scoff at and love it."

"He loved the offbeat. He loved most of all movies that were just visually stunning. He liked to be taken to another place," Steinberg said.

He said Sullivan liked to create short films and enter them in festivals. Sullivan planned to go to California after graduation and "try to make it" in whatever he role he could find in filmmaking, he said.

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Associated Press writers Rick Gano in South Bend and Jeni O'Malley in Indianapolis contributed to this report.