Further Examination of the East Chicago, Indiana, Highway Ramp Collapse Could Help Prevent Similar Accidents

CED-82-120: Published: Sep 2, 1982. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1982.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the adequacy of the Federal Government's investigation of the collapse of a highway ramp under construction in East Chicago, Indiana, to determine whether the investigation is employing all available resources. The project is 90-percent funded by the Department of Transportation. On April 15, 1982, three sections of the ramp collapsed, killing 13 workers and injuring 17 others.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are involved in the investigation. NBS and FHWA are seeking to determine the technical cause of the accident at the request of OSHA. Indiana OSHA will use the results of the investigation as a basis for determining the need to issue appropriate citations and penalties for violations of occupational safety standards. The major objectives of the accident investigation are to determine the accident's cause and prevent further occurrences. Federal officials acted promptly in the aftermath of the collapse, and the agencies are coordinating their efforts to determine the technical cause. NBS appears to be well qualified to determine the most probable technical cause. However, NBS and the other agencies are not examining and have no plans to examine aspects of the project such as safety standards and monitoring requirements that may have contributed to the collapse. The NBS investigation may help pinpoint weaknesses, but its purpose is not to evaluate systemic aspects. No single Federal agency or group has the responsibility for directing and coordinating the total Federal investigative efforts for this accident or similar ones. If a Federal agency is given the responsibility for investigating structural failures, that agency also needs to have specific responsibility for directing and coordinating the total Federal investigative effort for major accidents on Federal construction projects.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress is no longer considering the authorization of an existing Federal agency to investigate structural failures. Therefore, the recommendation that Congress also give such an agency the specific responsibility for the total investigative effort of failures on Federal and federally-assisted projects is no longer valid.

    Matter: Congress should, in its current deliberations on the need to authorize an existing Federal agency to investigate structural failures, provide that such an agency have the specific responsibility for the total Federal investigative effort whenever a major accident occurs on Federal and federally assisted construction projects. This authority should provide for the agency to conduct independent investigations of both the technical causes and systemic aspects of accidents.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Labor and Transportation should review appropriate Federal and State responsibilities, standards, requirements, control and monitoring procedures, and other appropriate systemic aspects of the Riley Road-Cline Avenue ramp's construction. The objectives of this review should be to determine if improvements are needed for similar projects in Indiana and in other States. To have a more comprehensive review, the Secretaries should seek the cooperation of Indiana OSHA and the Indiana Department of Highways in examining systemic aspects of the ramp collapse.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Labor and Transportation should review appropriate Federal and State responsibilities, standards, requirements, control and monitoring procedures, and other appropriate systemic aspects of the Riley Road-Cline Avenue ramp's construction. The objectives of this review should be to determine if improvements are needed for similar projects in Indiana and in other States. To have a more comprehensive review, the Secretaries should seek the cooperation of Indiana OSHA and the Indiana Department of Highways in examining systemic aspects of the ramp collapse.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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