OSHA fines two firms over Aspen-area home explosion

A mansion under construction in the Aspen-area exploded and collapsed Feb. 3. Two local construction firms are set to pay separate fines.

Two local construction firms have agreed to pay separate fines — totaling $27,000 and $40,000 — for violating federal workplace safety requirements when a mansion under construction on the outskirts of Aspen exploded and collapsed, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.

Four construction workers on the project site at 173 Slalom Path, which is off McLain Flats Road and near the Sunnyside Trail, were hospitalized after the home collapsed from an explosion on Feb. 3. Four others were treated on the scene for less serious injuries.

Two of the injured workers were with R&A Enterprises of Carbondale Inc., an electric contractor on the site. One worker suffered a sprained wrist and had a cut to his hand, according to Chris Broadhurst, the owner of R&A.

“I just hope the construction community can learn from this and educate their people, and everybody makes this a learning experience,” he said on Thursday.

R&A agreed to pay three separate fines of $9,000 to OSHA as part of an informal settlement agreement, according to OSHA records.

The fine amounts originally had been set at $13,052. OSHA dropped a fourth ticket for $11,188.

The 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot home was under construction when a large explosion caused one of the floors to collapse, taking down walls and blowing windows out of the frames, according to an Aspen Times report at the time. The report was based on statements from Benjamin Smith, deputy fire marshal for the Aspen Fire Department.

Natural gas had built up in the crawl space, and static electricity from one of the workers in the crawl space likely ignited the gas, he said at the time.

“As for why there was natural gas released, that is still under investigation and will be reported when possible,” Smith told the Times in February. “What I can tell you is that there was an electrician and plumber working in that space when the explosion happened.”

Attempts to reach Smith this week for an update on the department’s investigation were unsuccessful.

OSHA’s public-information officers for the Colorado region did not respond to messages seeking comment about the investigation. Documents filed in mid-August show R&A and Basalt-based Brikor Associates agreed to pay fines for violating OHSA regulations related to workers entering confined areas, like a crawl space.

Brikor was hit with a total of five violations, all of which saw fine amounts reduced from $11,167 to $8,000 per infraction, according to OSHA data.

OSHA cited both Brikor Associates and R&A for ignoring workplace safety rules by not having an employee evaluate the crawl space for any potential hazards, as well as by not communicating about the required permit space program.

“It’s something we’ve got to educate the construction world on, and everybody needs to be aware of when it turns into a permitted confined space from a confined space and what the rules are,” Broadhurst said.

Brikor Associates was also cited for not adhering to the following OSHA regulations:

  • Inform, in a timely manner and in a manner other than posting, its employees’ authorized representatives and the controlling contractor of the existence and location of, and the danger posed by, each permit space.
  • The forced air ventilation must be so directed as to ventilate the immediate areas where an employee is or will be present within the space and must continue until all employees have left the space.
  • If any employer decides that employees it directs will enter a permit space, that employer must have a written permit space program that complies with (permit-required confided space program) implemented at the construction site. The written program must be made available prior to and during entry operations for inspection by employees and their authorized representatives.

R&A also was cited violating the following OSHA rule: Before it begins work at a worksite, each employer must ensure that a competent person identifies all confined spaces in which one or more of the employees it directs may work, and identifies each space that is a permit space, through consideration and evaluation of the elements of that space, including testing as necessary.

Broadhurst said his employees take safety classes, and the February incident was unfortunate.

“My company goes through safety classes every three years, and we have had confined-space training classes,” he said. “This all comes down to an accident that happened, and we were fined for confined-space negligence, and I can tell you I’ve been doing this in the valley and could take you to 40 construction sites” where similar violations happen.

OSHA opened and closed investigations on five other firms involved in the project — none of which were issued violation.

OSHA has another case open against a plumbing and air-control company.