Contractors return to Echo Brickell as new details emerge on incident

The Echo Brickell tower as of September, left, and construction materials hanging from the building (Credit: Hiten Samtani)
The Echo Brickell tower as of September, left, and construction materials hanging from the building (Credit: Hiten Samtani)

Work has resumed at the unfinished Echo Brickell luxury condo tower as of Monday, nearly two weeks after a scaffolding collapse left five injured and one dead.

And while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still in the midst of an investigation, a new memo from the city of Miami sheds light and raises questions — on what caused two platforms loaded with building materials to come loose more than 40 stories above Brickell’s busy streets.

Workers were unloading formation materials from scaffolding affixed to the tower’s 47th and 48th floors Oct. 19 when something caused the platforms to give way, raining pieces of metal onto the street below. Ultimately, five people were injured and another bystander died of a heart attack while running away.

The two platforms, still hanging from the building, were removed by Echo Brickell’s construction crane. Eight days later, another scaffolding collapse killed one painter and injured two more at the Hyde Resort & Residences construction site in Hollywood. Both projects are led by general contractor John Moriarty & Associates.

On Thursday, OSHA agents wrapped up their onsite investigation and gave Miami’s Building Department an all-clear to reopen Echo Brickell, according to a city memo. The city’s building department followed suit a day later, allowing Moriarty to restart construction.

A spokesperson for Moriarty told The Real Deal that workers were back on the job site at 1451 Brickell Avenue as early as Monday, performing light duties. John Leete, head of Moriarty’s South Florida operations, said in a statement that the company doesn’t expect either Hyde or Echo Brickell to be delayed as a result of the accidents. Echo is being developed by the Property Markets Group, while Hyde is being built by Related Group, Fortune International Group and SBE.

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Moriarty had brought in CHM Structural Engineers to determine whether Echo Brickell was destabilized as a result of the accident. The company’s report, attached to the memo, found no cracks or distress in the 47th, 46th and 45th floors below where the accident occurred. The 6th floor caught some of the falling debris but did not suffer additional damage.

The platforms in question are X Climb 60s, a type of scaffolding that uses hydraulic lifts to raise itself against the side of a building. Attached to the memo was a letter from Ceco Concrete Construction, a subcontractor handling formwork for Echo Brickell, which stated that the nature of the accident made it clear that “the failure was a result of the hydraulic jacking of the platforms.”

Four such platforms, manufactured by DOKA USA, are still in place at Echo Brickell: one on the north side, where the incident occurred, and three on the south side. Audrey Dunham, senior project manager for Ceco, wrote in the letter that the X Climbs have no risk of failure when they’re “fully installed and engaged in the support brackets,” as are the remaining four.

The official cause of the accident is still under investigation by OSHA, which has said that it won’t release preliminary information until the agency’s investigation is completed. That investigation will also determine who, if anyone, is at fault.

Steven Holt, a construction attorney with Katz Barron Squitero Faust, told TRD that the general contractor — in this case, Moriarty — isn’t necessarily responsible for an accident on its job site. OSHA safety guidelines rule over all construction in Florida, and since a general contractor can’t have its eyes everywhere on a job as big as a highrise, subcontractors are primarily responsible for ensuring safety in their work.

However, if Moriarty or a subcontractor is found to be in violation, he said, a permanent mark on a builder’s record from OSHA could be a major impediment to getting further work.

He said the Echo Brickell’s scaffolding collapse falls under the “Swiss cheese” model of accidents.

“Accidents like these are the result of lining up a bunch of holes in the cheese,” he said. “Safety guidelines usually have a lot of redundancies, so [accidents] come from failures on a lot of levels.”

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