By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
The state has accused the builder of an East Hawaii zip line platform that collapsed last year, killing a construction worker, of serious violations of workplace safety laws.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations also alleges that the builder did not take the Hamakua Coast’s unique soil characteristics into account, and raised questions about whether the builders of other structures in the region could have made the same mistake.
The department’s Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division announced Tuesday that it had completed its investigation into the accident that claimed the life of 36-year-old Ted Callaway as he tested a line at Honolii Mountain Outpost, the new eight-line course being built for Hilo-based ecotourism business KapohoKine Adventures.
Contractor GoZip LLC “failed to take reasonable precautions” to ensure that support anchors were strong enough to counteract the weight of the platforms themselves, the heavy steel cables and any riders on the zip lines, according to a press release.
“For zip line installers, this tragic accident demonstrates the importance of basing design and construction decisions on measurable objective information, for the safety of workers as well as the general public,” reads a statement issued Tuesday by Dwight Takamine, director of the Hawaii Department of Labor. “Unfortunately, this is another workplace fatality that was preventable, and we share the sorrow of the family, friends, co-workers and others affected by this incident.”
John White, the president of Experiential Resources Inc. and its operating arm, GoZip, did not return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday. But in a prepared press release issued late Tuesday afternoon, the company said it would dispute the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division’s findings in a hearing before the state Labor Relations Board.
“ERi will continue to work with the state to resolve differences of opinion while remaining committed to assisting the state and industry in learning from the tragedy,” the release stated. “While we work with HIOSH, we are unable to further comment until a resolution has been achieved.”
The release added that since the accident, the company has conducted “a meticulous review of its existing ziplines and is satisfied that they continue to more than meet accredited national and state safety standards. … In 19 years of business, the company has never had an anchor or line failure. The company has built hundreds of individual zip line spans and has worked in 40 states and 12 countries without incident. It has built seven other ziplines in the Hawaiian Islands, all of which have perfect safety records.”
GoZip employees Callaway, of Lahaina, Maui, and Curtis Wright, of Miamisburg, Ohio, were adjusting and testing cables on Line 8, the longest leg of the course located along Honolii Stream above Paukaa, when ground anchors supporting the line’s tower “abruptly pulled out of the ground,” the HIOSH report states.
“The poles that held the platform came out of the ground and the tower collapsed, causing the cables to sag into the stream valley. The employee riding the zip line (Callaway) fell approximately 200 feet and suffered fatal injuries. The employee on the platform (Wright) fell approximately 30 feet and suffered serious injuries.”
The state has levied a total of $13,500 in fines against the Maui-based zip line builder in connection with the accident. The citations claim that GoZip failed to do “everything reasonable and necessary to protect the life, safety and health of employees,” as well as failing to ensure that employees wore helmets and that an extension ladder was used properly at the site.
The three separate violations were each categorized as “serious,” said Department of Labor spokesman Bill Kunstman, garnering individual fines of $4,500 apiece. Such fines fall “on the high end” of the range, he said, with the average fine levied by the department against an employer being $1,270 per violation. The maximum fine possible per violation is $7,000. Only cases in which an employer is found to have “knowingly and willfully violated” state laws are considered to be more serious, Kunstman said.
In addition to announcing the fines, the department added that an engineering report conducted after the accident “raises serious concerns about the stability of structures that rely on ground anchors for support, including zip line towers at other locations on the island.”
“A professional engineer, hired by GoZip to conduct geotechnical testing following the accident concluded that the subsoil in which the anchors were installed was Pahala Ash, a fine particulate mineral that has the appearance of normal soil but loses up to 90% of its natural strength when disturbed,” the release reads. “The engineering report stated that much of the soil along the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island that appears to be red dirt might in fact be Pahala Ash.”
In response to the citations, KapohoKine Adventures co-owner Tony DeLellis said Tuesday via a press release that the levying of penalties against GoZip “doesn’t change the tragic loss of a human life, and it troubles us that more rigid standards weren’t applied to these lines by the builder.”
He added that in response to the independent engineering study performed after the accident, KapohoKine suspended all zip line tours and is working to redesign and rebuild its course.
“Platforms are being rebuilt, supports are being reinforced and every anchor has been replaced and is undergoing intensive testing,” he said.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.