Notre Dame settles case regarding scissor lift death

The University of Notre Dame settled with the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) for penalties resulting from the October 2010 death of Declan Sullivan. Sullivan was a 20 year old film student, who was employed by the athletic department to record football practice from a 40 foot tall hydraulic scissor lift. The lift toppled over during practice due to high winds. The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory that day, and recorded gusts over 50 miles per hour around the time of the accident.

Notre Dame will make a donation to a memorial fund for Declan in an undisclosed amount, as well as implement a nationwide safety education program to educate other schools on the safe use of scissor lifts in exchange for reduced fines. Notre Dame will now pay $42,000 in fines, instead of $77,500 for six safety violations. The violations included failing to adequately train students on the use of lifts, failing to keep an operator's manual on the lift, and allowing untrained employees to use the lifts with knowledge that a wind advisory was in effect. (See Notre Dame's internal report here).

Scissor lifts are frequently used to record football practice at universities across the nation. It is recommended that lifts be grounded when winds reach approximately 28 miles per hour. Notre Dame had a policy of grounding them when winds were 35 miles per hour or higher. The school reported that none of the weather reports it read before practice met the 35 mile per hour mark. Tweets by Sullivan shortly before the accident, however, demonstrated his concern over the high wind advisory and strong gusts of wind.

This is not the first time this type of accident has occurred. In 1995, two students at James Madison University were injured when a lift fell over during practice due to wind. They suffered severe back injuries. In 2000, a Colorado State student suffered broken ribs, punctured lungs, and liver damage when a lift toppled. (http://athleticbusiness.com/articles/article.aspx?articleid=3674&zoneid=33).


In its internal report, Notre Dame discusses the implementation of a national education effort. The report states that "college lift policies lack uniformity and specificity" and recommends collaboration with the Collegiate Sports Video Association, IOSHA, and the NCAA to implement stronger safety rules. Notre Dame's recommendations for its own program include firm guidelines for lift use, and training for student lift operators.

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